What native Texan doesn’t enjoy some chips and queso?
Review by Alexiz Magro-Malo
Photos by Thalia Juarez
I am very critical when it comes to “good” Mexican food, since I grew up eating authentic, homemade Mexican dishes. This is why Licha’s Cantina, a quaint restaurant located in East Austin off of 6th street, not only made me feel a bit nostalgic, but right at home.
The building Licha’s Cantina resides in does not embody the structure of a traditional restaurant — it’s more like a house. Its all-wood design and colorful Hispanic paintings took me into a new world (without the jet lag of a transcontinental flight). Tables are decorated with small santo candles, and drinks are served in miniature mason-jar-esque cups.
This traditional Hispanic and minimalistic setting is also reflected in the restaurant’s dishes.
For my meal at Licha’s Cantina, I started with chips and two different salsas — orange and verde (a green sauce). Both salsas definitely had some spice and flavor, but they were also very rich and creamy. The orange salsa had an initial sweetness, which, after asking our waitress, came from the orange fruit in the recipe. Each was equally delicious, but I’m a girl who likes her salsa spicy, so I stuck with the salsa verde.
Next, I ordered a traditional Mexican street food item: Tacos al Pastor and Carne Deshebrada con Chile Cascabel.
Delicious, authentic tacos are hard to come by, but Licha’s definitely hit the spot. Al Pastor tacos are made with pork that has been marinated with spices, but most importantly pineapple. Not only does the pineapple add a nice tangy, sweet flavor, but it also sustains the pork’s tenderness. The tacos were served with pico de gallo, corn tortillas and some freshly-made guacamole. What really surprised me was how delicious the guacamole tasted. At most restaurants, I normally find myself adding more ingredients, like lime, but I didn’t need to with this guacamole.
I also didn’t find myself making any tweaks to the Carne Deshebrada.
Carne Deshebrada has different names in different places, but it’s just a savory shredded beef or brisket served with masa (a corn dough). The meat was delightfully placed in a small bowl topped with crema de escabeche, which I’ve never had but didn’t really get to taste, because it was drizzled on so lightly. The beef was extremely tender, juicy and delicious. The masa was filling, which made it a little difficult to make room for dessert, but somehow I managed.
Our sweet waitress recommended the Tres Leches cake, and I’m glad she did.
Tres Leches, a cake soaked in milk, or a cream, is a common staple at any family birthday party I go to, but I was simply in heaven with Licha’s version. The piece of cake was molded into the shape of the tiny to-go cup it sat in. The cake itself was not particularly moist, as is expected with tres leches cakes, but, for lack of a better description, tasted like ice cream.
I thoroughly enjoyed eating at Licha’s Cantina. It left me wanting to give my abuelita a call.