The Red Mesa family of restaurants are good stand-bys on any day of the week. You can’t go wrong with one of the three: Mercado, 4th St, and the Cantina. As far as atmosphere goes, the Cantina downtown is my favorite. The inside is funky and vibrant, while the outdoor patio feels quaint and cozy. With the string lights, landscaping and fountain, it’s almost like being in your own backyard oasis. Recently on a Friday, Stephen and I went with some friends and decided it was a bit too warm on a September night to sit outside. The inside of the restaurant is very loud, which can make conversation difficult at times, but that’s a normal night at most downtown eateries. No biggie for us. But if you’re looking for a quiet date place, this might not be the right pick for you.
As an appetizer, we ordered some yuca fries to snack on. The yuca is a root vegetable, and when they are cut, fried and salted, they mimic a french fry without the heaviness of a white potato. They are delicious to munch on and a nice switch-up to regular ol’ fries! Next time you’re there, you gotta try them.
Of course, Mexican is a great gluten-free option, but not always a great corn-free option. Well I have a trick up my sleeve for that. I ordered three tacos over lettuce, without the shell. I do this quite often at a Mexican restaurant and it’s always delicious! And the Cantina’s taco options are so flavorful, you don’t miss the shell at all. I ordered one each of the chicken, grilled fish, and duck. The chicken is pretty straight-forward. Moderately spiced chicken with peppers, jack cheese, and pico de gallo. I usually get the duck when I go, because it’s hard for me to find duck that I like. I don’t like the gamey flavor at all. And they actually pull the duck so it has a similar texture to pulled pork. The duck confit is orange braised and served with goat cheese, grilled pineapple and a spicy red chile jelly. The jelly is really hot, and I am kind of a wimp when it comes to super spicy things, so I get it on the side. Now, my absolute favorite is the grilled Baja Fish! I love fresh fish, so anytime I can get it, it’s a win. It’s fresh catch, seasoned perfectly with salsa, coleslaw and lime crema sauce. Scrumptious. I’m happy to say that the Cantina’s tacos can stand on their own, without a shell, and still pack a punch of gourmet Mexican flavor.
For Stephen, he ordered the Pescado Fresco, blackened, with chile verde sauce, pico de gallo and habanero aioli. It's served with gallo pinto and fresh seasonal vegetables. I tried a bite of the fish, (it’s gluten-free too) and it was so yummy. Kind of made me wish I’d gotten it! Sometimes chefs can be a too heavy-handed with blackening, in my opinion, but this was just the right amount. I promise I’m trying it next time!
They had live music outside on the patio/bar area. Definitely a fun, vibrant place to hang out with friends. I’ve also taken advantage of their happy hour after work in the past, and their outside bar is very chill. I recommend you try it for your next happy hour trip. Hopefully when it cools down (sooner rather than later, please!), we can come back, sit outside, and enjoy the band!
Red Mesa Cantina
128 3rd St S
St Petersburg FL 33701
You might not think that you could find gluten-free goodies at a Mexican restaurant, but we have good news. You can, and it's delicious.