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Chef Dana Rodriguez brings taste of Mexico City to new Denver cantina

Brittany Anas

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Beloved chef Dana Rodriguez's latest restaurant has a focus on Mexico City street food (and some agave-forward cocktails).Hi-Rez Photography

By Brittany Anas / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Beloved Denver chef Dana Rodriguez brings Mexico City street food to the LoHi neighborhood with her newest restaurant Cantina Loca.

Opening Jan. 12, Cantina Loca, 2890 Zuni St., has a menu loaded with tasty snacks that transport diners to Mexico’s capital city. (Think: Crispy pork rinds served with salsa borracha, which is a “drunken salsa” spiked with Rodriguez’s very own small-batch Dona Loca mezcal).

Street tacos, a few larger plates like a red chile chicken dish, as well as sweet treats such as churros and horchata are also on the cantina’s menu.

Cantina Loca a ‘dream’ for Rodriguez

For Rodriguez, a three-time James Beard semi-finalist, 2022 is shaping up to be a busy year.

She’s also partnered with “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to become the executive chef at Casa Bonita. She’s also the chef and owner/partner of RiNo restaurants Work & Class and Super Mega Bien.

Cantina Loca, though, is Rodriguez’s first solo project and she says it’s a “dream.”

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Chef Dana Rodriguez photographs her dishes at her latest restaurant, Cantina Loca.Hi-Rez Photography

“It’s the ultimate representation of Mexican culture through food and drink, in an atmosphere that feels like a true Mexico City cantina,” Rodriguez says.

To nail the Mexico City vibe, Rodriguez enlisted designers of Denver-based Fin Art. The 2,300- square-foot space has exposed brick, Mexican cinder block walls, custom clay lighting crafted from Mezcal tasting cups and muraled walls.

An artistic rendition of a lavender tree is an Instagram-worthy centerpiece in the cantina, which is a nod to the live trees that are often rooted in Mexico City restaurants, Rodriguez says.

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A whimsical faux tree is a focal point at Cantina Loca.Cantina Loca

Come summer, Rodriguez plans to sell to-go tacos from the patio, which she expects to be a hit with neighborhood brewery-goers.

Dishes and drinks to try at Cantina Loca

Here are five must-try dishes and drinks at Cantina Loca:

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Tequila and mezcal-forward cocktails at Cantina LocaHi-Rez Photography

1. Nopales Fritos

The Fritangas (or snacks) section of the menu include Nopales Fritos, which are strips of cactus fried in a charcoal tempura, then drizzled with chipotle aioli.

2. Queso Fundido

Dunk chips in bubbling queso topped with pico de gallo. Cheese lovers will also want to order the doraditos, with cheese potatoes, lemon cabbage salad and spicy avocado sauce.

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Queso Fundido at Cantina LocaHi-Rez Photography

3. Tacos

Mix and match street tacos like the $4.50 Al Pastor taco made with Colorado lamb and adobo and pineapple or the beef barbacoa with dry spices.

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Street tacos at Cantina LocaHi-Rez Photography

4. Vincent Man-Gogh

The restaurant’s signature cocktail is this mango-forward tequila drink with red chili and lime.

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Vincent Man-Gogh cocktail at Cantina LocaHi-Rez Photography

5. New Old Oaxacan

Made with Rodriguez’s Doña Loca Espadín, this cocktail has Mexican cane sugar, bitters and a lemon twist. The cantina also has a tasting room for agave spirits lovers.

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Brittany is a journalist in the Denver metro area with more than two decades of writing and editing experience. She covers travel, restaurants and other lifestyle topics.

Westminster, CO
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