Round Corner Cantina
Most people when they think of tacos picture the hard yellow shelled things filled with ground beef and orange cheese that we have on a Tuesday nights to accompany our fishbowl sized margaritas at the Mexican chain restaurant down the street. Nothing wrong with them of course, meat and cheese is always a happy addition to the American palate and it is merely our attempt at interpreting another country’s food style. Sadly we are missing the boat as a real taco is truly a thing to behold.
Thankfully the good folks at The Round Corner Cantina exist to steer us in the right direction. They offer authentic Mexican street tacos with upscale ingredients, techniques and presentation but none of the pretension that usually comes along with this combination of skill sets. The staff is timely, knowledgeable and just all around solid citizens that add to the relaxed dining experience.
For starters we had their salsa and guacamole, both wonderful. Fresh produce all around and seasoned to perfection. Little spice just to get the point across and a refreshing change from the overly-salted scorching hot versions employed by some chains to run up your bar tab.
As it was wrapped in bacon, we had to try the Tijuana Street Dog and found it to be moderately life changing. Topped with avocado, crema, pico, queso fresco and a few pieces of jalapeño for good measure, it reaffirms the versatility of a simple tubed meat.
Elote is a traditional street food in Mexico and their version comes equipped with queso fresco, crema and tajin spices. The corn is grilled to perfection to release the sugar soluble flavors trapped within and upon visiting you may never boil your cobs again. Apps ranged from $3.50 to $9.
While they serve a faithfully authentic version of what a proper Mexican taco should be, the Cantina allows itself to respectfully stray from the mold, without dabbling in the dark waters of fusion cuisine. They have simply put their spin on a classic style. Unlike their greasy ground beef Northern cousin, the Cantina uses the traditional double wrapped tortilla filled with slow cooked high quality proteins.
One to definitely keep an eye out for is their Lamb Barbacoa. Slow cooked lamb shank topped with a creamy avocado salsa finished with pickled onions and cilantro. They are in a word, superb, and this reviewer’s order of choice. Thankfully they come two to an order as just one would be cruel.
Another favorite is the Brisket. Generously filled with slow cooked perfectly seasoned beef accompanied by the same fixings as the lamb but topped with an amazingly well fried chicken chicharrone for a little textural contrast to the soft beef. If you have not had the wonder that is deep fried chicken skin, you could visit the Cantina solely for this reason.
Fish taco’s are a subject of worldwide debate and every purveyor has their own tried and true combination by which they swear. Sometimes it’s the choice of fish, sometimes it’s the sauce, even the merits of grilled vs. fried enter into the discussion. At Round Corner they have decided upon a lightly tempura battered Mahi-Mahi topped with a little crema, cabbage, radish and cilantro. A well balanced and flavorful version with the radish adding just the right amount of peppery snap. What’s even better is that tacos are amazingly priced in the $7-$8 range.
For those steering clear of animal proteins, they have even gone as far to create vegetarian options that do not suffer from the loss of meat, rather could stand firmly toe to toe with their other offerings. There are some with tofu, some with seitan and a cauliflower and sweet potato taco that made us question our perceptions of what meat-free could and should be.
While we could go on and on about the taco’s, they only make up a part of the experience. Their drink menu instead of being a hastily added side note, adds as much to the outing as the food. You can find carefully chosen Mexican cervezas, local Pittsburgh suds as well as high end craft beers available by the bottle or the bucket. To increase their Mexican street food cred they even offer several types of Micheladas, our favorite being the Del Sol which simply adds salt and lime to Dos Equis.
But as most looking for a culinary trip south of the border desire, they have margaritas. Not the sickly sweet versions that ensure a headache at work the next day, but finely balanced and uniquely made versions of classics. Not feeling adventurous? Stick to a La Cantina($6), a traditional margarita made with a splash of orange juice. Something different? Go for an El Ray($10), boasting Don Julio Anejo, Combier D’Orange, Lemon, Lime and Chile de Arbol. Or just sip one of their many tequila or mezcals on their spacious back deck that now offers private booths to those who plan ahead.
To finish with a clumsy summation all one can say is this; Rarely does one find a restaurant that has pulled off their culinary vision with the tact and precision found at Round Corner Cantina.
3720 Butler Street
Mon – Wed: 11:45am – 12am
Thurs – Fri: 11:45am – 2am
Sat: 11:45am – 2am
Sun: Brunch 11:45am – 3pm. Open til midnight
21+ after 5pm