Where’s the best Gourmet Mexican Food in Nashville Tn

FRESH food, commitment to quality and an unpretentious staff will put Cantina Laredo on the map in Nashville. As the most recent restaurant to secure a coveted slot in The Gulch, Cantina Laredo has hit the ground running. Just six weeks since start-up and (seemingly) running as smooth as a top.

No doubt that Cantina Laredo is enjoying ‘new kid on the block’ notoriety. The question becomes-can the menu, vibe and value weather the current economic climate? With restaurants coming and going faster than you can say “Do I need a reservation?”- it’s a brave move to open a restaurant in these economic times, but Cantina Laredo has the guns. Under the umbrella of CRO, Inc, Cantina Laredo enjoys the backing of full corporate resources. In the process of opening three more stores, Columbus OH will be the next city to have the Cantina Laredo experience.

With unique offerings such as quacamole (prepared tableside); two types of FRESH salsa, painstakingly made in-house (down to the ‘roasting off’ of the veggies); a complimentary Mimosa or ‘Bloody Maria’ with Brunch and half-priced house margaritas or selected wines on Ladies’ Night (Thursdays)-Cantina Laredo hopes to set themselves apart from the stigma of ‘chain’ restaurants.

Chef Larry Sinclair accommodated me on a Wednesday evening in the smaller dining area of the restaurant. Initially greeted by ‘front of the house Manager’ (Mike Cizek), I was so preoccupied with my impending meeting with Sinclair that I failed to notice that Cizek’s arm was in a sling (to be continued…).

A genuinely friendly and candid Sinclair was eager for me to try their fresh guacamole, fresh salsas (served pre-meal with fresh chips)…do we see a theme developing here? FRESH. Can I tell you how refreshing it is to dine in a restaurant that is a ‘chain/franchise’ and not be served crap-from-a-can?! Sinclair, a veteran of chain restaurants, gushes about the pride he takes in his contribution to Cantina Laredo. While Sinclair has limited creative license with the menu and ingredients, his commitment to Cantina Laredo’s quality and customer satisfaction is palpable.

As a reviewer (and very picky foodie!), I was slightly dreading this encounter-as I tend to prefer non-corporate eateries and intentionally avoid the ‘chains’. Happily, Cantina Laredo put a halt (at least temporarily) to my tendency toward ‘restaurant profiling’.

The staff I would be remiss not to commend the rest of the staff I encountered in my three hours at Cantina Laredo. Yes, three hours. Chef Sinclair indulged me and my incessant questions (and personal ramblings) for three hours. Every employee I encountered was friendly, genuinely comfortable with their role and a pleasure to meet. Jenny (our server) was friendly, engaging and timely; as was Blake, the trainee. Trey Cioccia (Assistant Kitchen Manager) arrived at the table to check on us (he probably really wanted to know when Sinclair was gonna cut me off and run me out of there, but was too polite to inquire). Sinclair’s interaction with Cioccia cemented my impression that people there genuinely cared about their fellow employees and the welfare of the restaurant. It also solidified my feeling of just how crucial Sinclair’s role is-not only as Chef, but as Kitchen Manager.

I found myself delightfully bewildered as to how such a large organization manages to keep such a close relationship with their staff and a keen eye on their business-the way a small, local restaurant would operate.

Sinclair and I lingered for an hour over the salsa and guacamole, as we talked easily about our individual backgrounds and his professional journey (leading to his association with Cantina Laredo). He described with pride the meticulous procedures he has in place to ensure all food is consistent, temperature safe and pleasing to the eye. At no time did the intermittent encounters with employees ever feel disruptive; employees were polite and friendly.

You get the sense that the other employees genuinely like and respect Sinclair, and he reciprocates. As a former restaurant owner, I can tell you that keeping those relationships with employees is key. This is a restaurant that will not have a high rate of employee turnover. Cantina Laredo has taken the time to seek out the types of employees that want the same things they do-loyal, satisfied customers.

The food It almost feels like a side note, but it is note worthy. Everything we ate offered big flavors, unique combinations and surprises to the palate. The Mexican City Chile Relleno was filled with spicy ground beef, pork, almonds and just enough raisins to hit your senses with the sweet before it backhanded you with the heat. The Carne Asada Y Camarones featured jumbo bacon-wrapped shrimp and slabs of tenderized skirt steak. While dessert is not my ‘thing’, I agreed to try Sinclair’s recommendation-Mexican Apple Pie. Yum! Drizzled with brandy butter and served (still sizzling) on a cast iron plate with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream…oh, yeah…

I hesitate to mention the margarita (ok margaritas), only because I don’t want you to get the impression I was drunk and didn’t know what the hell I was eating! But, they are worth mentioning. Their house margarita was a cut above (note-to-self: ‘Ladies Night Thursdays with half-off margaritas at Cantina Laredo’). Ever heard of Asombroso Tequila? At Sinclair’s urging, I had a tiny sample. This tequila was so smooth you could sip it like a fine bourbon. Could be lethal, but at $150 a shot…I don’t anticipate my future indulgence will be a problem.

Last, but not least…getting back to the front of the house Manager (Mike Cizek) and the sling on his arm…Mike hurt his arm riding a bike in a Nashville park. He dumped his bike over to keep from hitting an old lady who suddenly stood up from a park bench! These are the kinds of people Cantina Laredo employs. The story made me laugh (followed by a girly “awwww”).

Cantina Laredo… Looks like she just might be everything she claims to be… Hopefully, she won’t be ‘run outta town by sundown’… Let’s keep a good restaurant in town

Cantina Laredo
592 12th Ave So Nashville TN (615) 259-9282 Monday to Thursday 11am – 10pm Friday & Saturday – 11am – Midnight Sunday 11am – 9pm (Sunday Brunch 11:00am – 3:00pm)