Cantina Del Sol Plies Margs and Mexican Food
An Albany newcomer from The Star folks, this Solano Avenue Mexican restaurant wants to take care of you.
Fajitas, margaritas, and other familiar Mexican staples star at Cantina Del Sol.
Photo by Lori Eanes
In the space formerly occupied by Pacific Northwest-themed Café Eugene and launched by the same owners — the 1100 Group, which also operates The Star on Park, the Star on Grand, and others — Cantina Del Sol was spawned by multiple nostalgias: of the spirit, of the palate, and of the wallet.
“The type of Mexican restaurant I was raised on while growing up in Colorado was rough around the edges but friendly,” remembered the group’s culinary director Chris Laramie. “They offered full-table service, chips, and salsa as soon as you sat down, and fast but delicious food.
“When I moved to the Bay Area and looked for something to fill that spot in my heart, I found mainly taquerias. If I liked a place, it served only beer and wine, so I couldn’t have a margarita, and for me, that’s 50 percent of a Mexican meal.”
Many trendy Bay Area Mexican restaurants also have “crazy prices — way beyond the realm where families feel comfortable eating there once a week,” said Laramie, who earned a Grand Diplôme in both cuisine and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and whom locals might remember as the chef/co-owner of Berkeley’s Brasa and eVe.
And families are king at Cantina Del Sol, which opened in January, where little visitors can pluck tiny toys from a treasure chest, and where executive chef Luis Rodriguez — formerly of Picante — masterminds grilled steaks, enchiladas, quesadillas, and Mexican comfort foods such as chimichangas, wet burritos, and fajitas — cooked to order on cast-iron skillets.
The cantina has soft lighting, warm wooden details, a casual vibe, and technicolor patio furniture, with Laramie explaining, “we’re reaching back toward those unpretentious, relaxed restaurants I remember from my childhood, where I could run around and didn’t have to sit still.”
And where adults sipped lime-juicy, Triple Sec-and-tequila classics such as those served here frozen or on the rocks in two sizes, temptingly priced.
Café Eugene served complex signature cocktails, “but our focus is on good, strong, simple, cheap margaritas” — with all drinks half-price during the pre-closing hour.
Sourcing its tortillas from an Oakland maker, “We want to be the kind of place where, if you’re walking past, you just want to come in and let us take care of you.”
Cantina Del Sol, 1175 Solano Ave., Albany, 510-647-9999, CantinaDelSolano.com