Photos: Inside The Massive, Gorgeous Mexican Restaurant Opening In Andersonville

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 14, 2015 2:25PM

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Walleye ceviche. Photo by Anthony Todd.

Andersonville is mostly known for cute neighborhood restaurants, along with the occasional thumping gay bar. Cantina 1910, opening on Wednesday on the south side of the neighborhood, is going to be a game-changer.

This large modern Mexican spot, complete with multiple levels, two bars, over 150 seats, a walk-up pastry window, a rooftop farm and a full-scale preservation kitchen, will bring new flavors, along with a gorgeous design aesthetic sure to please denizens of the neighborhood that seems to boast the most design stores per square yard in the entire city.

You may have heard of Cantina 1910 before without realizing it. When first announced, it was known as Cantina de la Granja. The project, which ran long because of the amount of construction necessary, changed names earlier this year, but the concept remained the same.

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The front dining room of Cantina 1910. Photo by Anthony Todd.

Anyone who had visited the previous inhabitant of the building, T's, won't recognize it. That's because the owners of Cantina 1910 (who also own Crew and the nearby SoFo Tap) basically dismantled the previous building. In fact, at least half of Cantina 1910 is entirely new —the portions that house the rooftop farm, kitchens and back dining room. The renovated building boasts a front bar (above) with giant glass panels that open onto the street for an airy, summer feel. A hallway leads into the main dining room in back.

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The back dining room. Photo by Anthony Todd.

The location, on the corner of Clark and Winnemac, was too good to pass up, despite the challenges.

"We sat at our dining room table over a Fourth of July weekend and thought 'What are we going to do with this space when we get it?' explains co-owner Mark Robertson. "We realized that Andersonville was craving really good Mexican food."

The kitchen is helmed by Chef Diana Davila, who was hired after an international search. She focuses on Mexican food with a modernist twist. "Diana came to the table with something really unique - it was definitely Mexican, but it was really unique," says Robertson. Consider her Walleye ceviche (Pictures at the top), made with burnt corn, sweet potato and pear - this isn't your standard soupy ceviche, but a dish closer to a crudo, with a delicate sweet flavor. Aguachile de Camaron (shrimp ceviche), is made with zucchini, salsa macha and cured egg yolk.

With so much space devoted to preservation, Cantina 1910 is clearly on the farm-to-table bandwagon, but they're trying to do something different, too.

"When I look at farm to table restaurants, I often don't quite believe it," says Robertson. "In August, when it's the peak of the season, it's easy to be farm to table. But we wanted to actually do it year-round." That's why, in addition to a rooftop farm, they've built the first FDA-certified preservation kitchen in Chicago. A whole separate kitchen, just devoted to canning, freezing, vacuum sealing and preserving everything at the peak of the season and incorporating it into the menu all year round. "When all the other farm to table places are buying things at the peak of season, we will be too—but we'll be buying a lot more and preserving it." They are aiming, once the whole program is rolled out, to use 70 percent local food all year round.

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Al Pastor taco at Cantina 1910. Photo by Anthony Todd.

In addition to the ceviche and other small plates, Cantina 1910 has a full taco menu (co-Owner Mike Sullivan quietly boasts that they're determined to have the best al pastor tacos in town, complete with wheatgrass, tomatillo and spit-roasted pork), as well as complete selection of full-size entrees. "People can enjoy the menu any way they want," says Robertson. "They can treat it as a taqueria and come in for tacos and guacamole, or you can come in for an anniversary and get a steak."

In the morning (when you might not be in the mood for a taco), Cantina 1910 boasts a walk-up pastry and coffee window, showcasing the creations of their pastry department all day long. Also, the back dining room (which is adjacent to the pastry window) turns into a cafe space in the morning, and they'll eventually roll out a complete breakfast menu. At the other end of the day, there's a late-night "cantina" menu to keep the bar going until the wee hours.

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Photo by Anthony Todd.

The cocktail program is more than just margaritas. We got a chance to experience a mezcal-chile cocktail, the "Jacko’s Poneche," which is paired with a floral fog (made from combining tea and dry ice) which is sure to draw envious looks from the entire dining room. They're also bottling what they call the Chicago Trifecta, a combination of three local spirits (from FEW, Rhine Hall and CH Distillery) into a strong, bitter take on an old-fashioned.

If you're into design, make sure to look around the room. The gorgeous reclaimed wood tables are made from the beams they had to remove from the historic building; the chandeliers are made of old industrial equipment - even the candle holders on the tables are hand-made.

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The epic main entrance light fixtures. Photo by Anthony Todd.

Cantina 1910 opens this Wednesday, starting at 8. The pastry window opens Thursday morning.