We all know those fluorescent green margaritas that appear alongside bottomless chips and salsa at most Mexican joints. Those have their time and place, but Cantina Loco in Allentown isn’t it.
At the always-crowded Mexican joint, everything from the décor to the carefully curated menu feels deliberate. The bar is emblazoned with primary-color sugar skulls, bouncy pop-punk blares from the sound system and the menu features Mexican-American cuisine that doesn’t take any risks, but always tastes just as you expected.
There’s no bottomless chip basket and the menu is significantly smaller than at most Mexican restaurants, but Cantina Loco boasts the attention to detail and consistent quality that’s often missing from the rest of the field.
Cantina Loco is known more for its tacos than cocktails, but if you need something to soothe the spice, there’s plenty behind the bar. Its margarita list is exhaustive, but in the “Cactus Berry,” the tequila tangos with Cabernet Sauvignon, for a sweeter, less potent salsa sidekick.
The flavor profile is heavy with dry grape and just a hint of sour from key lime syrup. It leaves an afterthought of tequila smoke, but there’s barely a hint of citrus, unless you squeeze in the lime garnish, like I did.
Sangria, made with brandy and wine instead of tequila, is the more traditional wine-based Spanish cocktail. I’ve had versions made with cava (Spanish champagne) and all kinds of wine, but they often come out too sweet for my taste. The Cactus Berry was a dry red wine-drinker’s answer to that problem, not to mention a fruity margarita alternative.
The cocktail list follows suit, with just enough to choose from and lots to like. Most are tequila or mescal-based, and there are also flights and tastes to meet some of Jose Cuervo’s more sophisticated friends. The cocktails aren’t revolutionary and they do come in cactus-stemmed glasses, but for when you just need something that tastes good next to your plate, Loco’s got it covered.
Cantina Loco’s drinks aren’t crazy, but they don’t have to be. Sometimes, you just need comfort food with a decent drink. The Cactus Berry is the kind of cocktail you could make at home, similar to the margaritas and sangrias that have endeared us to those silly-looking glasses. Try one at Cantina, then try your hand in your kitchen too. You won’t be disappointed, either way.
Cactus Berry, $8. Cantina Loco; 191 Allen St., Buffalo; 551-0160; www.cantinaloco.com
Lizz Schumer is a Buffalo writer and editor who covers cocktails, food and whimsy for a variety of publications. She is the author of "Buffalo Steel" and can be found @eschumer or www.facebook.com/authorlizzschumer.