I could make this real quick and simply say that I don’t currently recommend Cantina Catrina, the Mexican restaurant from Miami that recently opened its second location, at Florida Mall. I could tell you that there was not one aspect of my experience that I found positive or redeeming, but I feel I need to be more specific.
The restaurant’s Facebook page states, “When you first step through the door you become part of the atmosphere.” Inasmuch as the atmosphere is predominantly influenced by the skeletal images associated with the Day of the Dead, I should have been warned.
Before I go any further, let me address the elephant bones in the room. Yes, I know that many businesses, restaurants especially, continue to struggle with the challenges the pandemic caused, including supply chain disruptions and staffing issues. So I wasn’t surprised or even chagrined that multiple items were not available on the menu. (Being short-staffed was not a concern here, but I’ll come back to that.)
And to be clear, the owners of Cantina Catrina chose to open this location during these unprecedented times and even invited media and food bloggers to opening day meals, presumably hoping for positive postings in return for free food and drinks. (I did not attend.) The restaurant’s website even admits that the decor, which includes several life-size skeletons – or maybe that should be lifeless-size – sitting at the bar and dining tables are to encourage Instagram postings.
Catrina occupies a space at the edge of the Florida Mall’s food court, referred to as the Dining Pavilion, with indoor and outdoor seating. In fact, it was the prospect of sitting on the patio that drew me to the restaurant one recent balmy evening – that and to have some Mexican food, which is one of my favorites.
But when I approached the host stand and requested a table outside, the young woman there told me they were phasing out the patio. Because who wants to sit outside on a beautiful Florida evening? In a pandemic? She suggested I take a seat at the bar. I took a stool between two of those large skeletons, figuring I wouldn’t catch whatever had done them in.
There I sat. And sat. I was ungreeted and unmenued, but it wasn’t because the place was understaffed. In fact, there were three people behind the bar (which had no other customers when I sat down) and two or three people I assumed were servers just standing around chatting the bartenders up. Every now and then someone would look my way and go back to chatting. There was a definite “not my table/not my problem” attitude, which I observed at other times, too. To say that they were undertrained would be to assume that some level of training had been attempted.
And let me just say that at no time during my visit did I see anyone I could describe as a manager.
After one of the bartenders finally pulled himself away and asked what I wanted (a menu was first on my list), I was finally able to order. After being told the first two things I requested were not available, I settled on an appetizer of tamal de lechón followed by the slow-braised beef barbacoa “street” tacos.
The menu is heavy on tacos, and each order comes with five, but they’re rather small. (There is no option to have a mix of tacos or anything else – it’s all or nothing.) The tacos featured corn tortillas, three to four inches in diameter, topped with the shredded beef, which was dry, and avocado slices, pickled onions, thinly sliced radish and lots of cilantro.
Although listed as an antojito, the tamale came out long after the tacos. (Would that make it a postojito?) There were two tamales, both small, and neither with much of the promised pork. What they did have a lot of was sodium. Each bite filled my mouth with a salty taste.
Napkins are available from popup dispensers on each table, and if you’d like a fork, you’ll find a container of plastic-wrapped disposable forks at your disposal.
I’d like to be able to equivocate and suggest the restaurant was having a bad night or that it was suffering from the vagaries of Covid Culture. It did not seem so to me. So let me just say I don’t currently recommend Cantina Catrina.
Cantina Catrina is at the Florida Mall, 8001 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando (map). It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 321-352-7282.