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‘Comfort’ Mexican food needs some work at Cantina No. 46

The baked chicken chilaquiles are layers chips pulled breast chicken cilantro Mexican cheeses topped with too-chunky ranchero sauce. | Tom

The baked chicken chilaquiles are layers of chips, pulled breast of chicken, cilantro and Mexican cheeses topped with a too-chunky ranchero sauce. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times Photos

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CANTINA No. 46 ★

46 E. Superior; (312) 664-0100;

Hours: Open at 11 a.m. daily for lunch and dinner.

Prices: Appetizers, $7-$10; entrees, $10-$14.

Try: Guacamole, chicken mini-taco flight, chilaquiles, beef short ribs enchiladas

Wheels: Not wheelchair-accessible.

In a bite: “Comfort” Mexican food (translation: what you would expect to find on the menu of a Mexican restaurant), but Cantina No. 46 does it with a little more pizzazz. The elegant Victorian brownstone setting with outdoor patio in front is quite inviting. Overall, the atmosphere is appealing, relaxing and quite modern. Margaritas and sangria by the glass and pitcher. Mojitos, too. Service was informed and friendly. Reservations accepted.

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary;
★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good;

★ Good; Zero stars: Poor

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:33AM

Restaurant owners, investors and chefs, please repeat after me: “We will open no restaurant before it’s time.”

Lunch at Cantina No. 46 found me watching tiles being laid around the perimeter of a fireplace. It also found me eyeing the flat-screen TV sitting on edge next to my table, waiting to be hung. I fully understand the urge to open the doors, but waiting an extra day or two to open for business won’t break you. New restaurants are rushing to get the doors open with seeming total disregard for the customer. Would a movie open in theaters before it’s edited?

Cantina No. 46 moved (rather quickly, it now seems) into space vacated by Salute Wine Bar (which lasted about as long as it takes to get the cork out of the bottle). Overall, the space (an English basement affair in a grand Victorian town house) has potential. It’s intimate and quite romantic, and is just a few blocks west of Michigan Avenue.

As the name suggests, Cantina No. 46 features Mexican cuisine, but with the caveat that this is “comfort” Mexican food. The extensive menu reflects that promise by not straying too far from the expected. Many of the usual suspects — queso fundido, taco flights, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas — are in the “comfort” zone. Cantina No. 46 is playing it safe, which, depending on how you view Mexican food these days, is the right thing to do. After all, not everyone has the weight and star power of Rick Bayless.

For example, the guacamole and chips. Both were good — the chips were crispy and the guacamole was chunky yet had some of the creamy texture that goes along with getting the mashed avocados just right. But it could have used more cilantro, more zip, and a lot more lime. The menu notes “tableside,” but that wasn’t the case at all.

A mini taco flight was flying high with good flavor. Each of the three soft flour tortillas was filled to the max with flavorful pulled chicken, a julienne of romaine lettuce and pico de gallo. The finishing flourish was a zippy chipotle mayo.

Baked chicken chilaquiles got a passing grade. It’s all in the layers of flavor when it comes to chilaquiles. And this version, with layers of chips, pulled breast of chicken, cilantro and Mexican cheeses, had it going on, except for the ranchero sauce, which was too much like a chunky tomato sauce rather than a smooth and vibrant ranchero (it needed to be cooked longer to develop the flavors).

Don’t miss out on the beef short rib enchiladas. The three enchiladas were filled with a good amount of flavorful pulled meat that was mixing it up with an array of cheeses and roasted tomato sauce. A quite acceptable arrangement of refried guajillo black beans and rice (not so nice, too gummy) was the escort.

More ambitious entrees include a baked “cedar plank” halibut and pan-roasted pork chop with green mole sauce.


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