Opened three months ago, Anita’s Cantina is restaurant owner and Austin, Texas, native Javier Rodriguez’s ode to his hometown’s speciality of Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican cuisine. Having created many successful pop-ups throughout Hanoi in the last few years, Anita’s Cantina is Javier’s first venture into an actual restaurant. The atmosphere inside feels much like an outdoor patio and is open and relaxed. Even the eatery’s mascot, Chihuahua Bo, upholds the Mexican heritage.
The menu consists of the usual Tex-Mex mainstays; burritos (VND120,000), enchiladas, soft tacos, quesadillas, flautas and nachos, though the menu’s weekly specials change on the fly. The speciality dishes are where Javier lets his culinary skills shine. On the week that Word visited, Javier was experimenting with a new dish he had yet to name — simply giving the creation a placeholder name of “sweet corn, green chilli and cheese fritters.”
“Whatever food works and customers request will make it on the specials menu more often. I am now working on a cha ca fish taco,” Javier divulges. Taking one of Hanoi’s most famous fish dishes and reimagining it as a taco has our interest piqued.
It wasn’t long before we asked the question: Who is Anita?
“She was my au pair while I was growing up,” Javier explains. “She taught me everything I know about Mexican food. Whenever she was cooking in the kitchen, I was always there right beside her.”
Javier now takes the skills that Anita taught him and makes most everything on the menu by hand.
“Everything including the chips, dip and tortillas are all handmade — everything except the alcohol,” Javier says. But the cocktails are anything but a joke. The cantinera (from VND90,000) (rum, lime, apricot-ginger syrup and soda) hits the soft spot between sweet and bitter. The margaritas (VND120,000) and Mexican hot chocolate with vanilla-infused bourbon is also worth trying.
Our first dish was the handmade nachos (VND90,000). The chips were thick and crispy and made a good complement to the lightly garnished and warm cilantro, tomato and cheese queso dip. Next came the tacos (VND130,000) served in three flavour options; chicken, pork and vegetarian potato. Again, the handmade tortillas had a light taste with the right consistency of texture, in contrast to the rubbery and chewy store-bought varieties used in some Hanoian restaurants.
The dishes were presented with four made-from-scratch sauces that pair well with tacos or any of the other offerings. The sauces are called simply green, orange, red and pickled chillis.
Anita’s Cantina is only open evenings, Thursdays to Sundays.
“I need the beginning of the week to hand-make all the ingredients for the remainder of the week,” Javier justifies. The only solace is that customers will soon have the option for delivery via the Vietnammm app. But, even then, you will have to stick to the restaurant’s limited hours.
Anita’s Cantina is at 36 Quang Ba, Tay Ho, Hanoi and is open Thursday to Sunday, 5.30pm to 10pm
Photos by Sasha Arefieva