BelAir Cantina – New in the Neighborhood
by Margaret James
Hey, Murray Hill neighbors – have you been wishing and hoping for a local taco place? Have you been craving a stellar margarita in a walkable radius? Well, you are in luck! After the success of both the Water Street and Wauwatosa branches, BelAir Cantina has opened a branch right here on Downer Avenue (2625 N. Downer). After opening just a few weeks ago on October 2nd, BelAir Cantina is already becoming a local staple.
Although BelAir’s most well-known faire is their incredible assortment of delicious tacos, the menu also boasts a number of other Baja-inspired dishes, including fajitas, burritos, and tamales. On Sunday evening, I went in to finally test out the tacos I had heard so much about. The place was so busy that unless we wanted to sit at the bar, the wait was 30-35 minutes. We opted to grab a drink at the bar but the delicious smells of our neighbors food enticed us to stay for dinner. A piece of advice: BelAir doesn’t take reservations, so if you go on a busy night (like Tuesday or Thursday taco nights), give yourself enough time for a wait. But if you are stuck waiting, order a margarita: the BelAir and the Kahuna were both tequila dreams.
But back to the reason we all go to restaurants like BelAir – the food. While you wait for your order to arrive, snack on the chips and the unique house made salsas. You don’t get the plain pico of most other mexican restaurants. Instead, BelAir presents you with three delicious house-made salsas to sample (the salsa verde was my favorite, although it was a tough pick). Everyone in my party decided to order tacos; BelAir has a deal that if you order 3 tacos, you’ll get beans and rice included. I settled on the Barbacoa, Carnitas, and Pollo Verde tacos. Each one was delicious and had a unique flavor. Every taco’s meat was moist, flavorful, and unimpeded by extra toppings. Without the distractions to which other tacos often succumb, the flavors of BelAir’s marinated meats are allowed to tickle my taste buds. My dinner mates were pescatarians, so they turned their attention to the seafood and veggie sections of the menu and raved about the Crispy Calamari taco. Disappointment was nowhere to be found on our section of the bar. And though it really shouldn’t be mentioned as an afterthought, the beans (we all got the vegetarian black beans) and rice were fantastic additions to our meal.
et me end by giving you even more incentive to visit BelAir Cantina on Downer Avenue. There are weekly specials, but none as famous as $2 Taco Tuesdays and Thursdays. Not every taco is eligible for that deal, but I’m sure you won’t be disappointed by the tacos that are. If you’re feeling like a BelAir night but don’t want to eat in, that’s fine! You can easily order online for either pick up or delivery. If you are a Brunch-er (a term I just made up), head on over to BelAir Cantina on Saturday or Sunday before 3 pm for a great brunch. While the bar stays open late, the kitchen is open on Sunday through Thursday from 11am until 11 pm and from 11 am to midnight on Friday and Saturday. Those with diet restrictions are also welcome at BelAir; the website has a handy tab that lists menu items that contain common allergens.
So have at it, Murray Hill, and be careful not to binge eat those delicious tacos from BelAir Cantina.