I tend to be drawn to people and places that radiate a positive energy. Add delicious food to that, and I’m a loyal and devoted regular.
When you first walk into the old bungalow that is Licha’s Cantina, you don’t feel like you’re in a restaurant at all. You feel as though you’re in someone’s home. The interior is cozy and dimly lit, and there’s music playing in the background. There is heart and soul, and the energy makes you feel good.
Somehow you know you’re about to sit down to a delicious and comforting meal, like you’re at a family dinner.
“Make It With Soul, Make It With Love”
Family is the inspiration behind Licha’s Cantina. The restaurant is named after owner Daniel Brooks’ mother, Licha. The menu pays homage to interior Mexican cuisine and Mexico City street food. The dishes are simple, yet full of flavor. The eatery’s operation is a labor of love, and you can taste it in any dish you try.
According to Brooks, food was always an important part of his childhood and everyday life. His paternal grandmother was a trained chef and extremely skillful in the kitchen. His maternal grandmother was able to make something out of nothing to feed 30 people. Brooks feels this confluence is represented in Licha’s menu. When he speaks about cooking, he says, “Make it with soul, make it with love.”
Fresh Produce and Slow-cooked Meats
If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of Licha’s kitchen, then you’d know it’s very small. But you’d never know it with the amount of food it produces. Licha’s prides itself on the fact that everything is made in-house. Prep occurs during the day, with meats brined then braised slowly. All of the masa products are made on site.
On any given weekend, Friday through Sunday, approximately 3,000 tortillas are made. And when Brooks says everything is made by hand, he means it. There are no machines used in the kitchen, just dedicated kitchen staff.
Produce also shines on Licha’s menu. Brooks says some of the best parts of Mexico are the beautiful outdoor markets. Because of this, there are several vegetarian options on the menu.
One of my favorite vegetarian dishes is camote. This dish has roasted sweet potatoes served with goat cheese, piloncillo-chipotle sauce, herb salad, pumpkin seeds, and sweet milk.
Licha’s uses ingredients in unexpected ways. You can find hibiscus flowers in a quesadilla, but also in the chile relleno with quinoa. If you’ve never tasted a hibiscus flower, they are delicious and pair well with savory flavors.
Menu Highlights at Licha’s Cantina
On a recent visit to Licha’s Cantina, I asked my server for recommendations. Some of the more popular items include:
- Alambre tacos – Skirt steak with bacon, queso asadero, peppers, and onions
- Al pastor tacos – Marinated roasted pork with pineapple and onions
- Huachinango Tikin Xic – Red snapper served with spicy potatoes, chorizo, and Swiss chard salad
Any of the sopecitos, white corn masa cups layered with black beans and your choice of meat, are great to snack on. The Cochinita Pibil, braised pork with pickled red onion, is full of flavor. You can taste that it was seasoned just right and braised slow all day.
As far as cocktails, Licha’s Cantina has an affinity for distilled agave products. While you can find your tequilas and mescales, you can also find a large selection of bacanoras and sotoles. You can find both classic cocktails and modern fusion drinks on the menu. And just like everything else at Licha’s, even the juices for the margaritas and palomas are fresh, hand-squeezed daily.
One of the best times to explore the menu is during happy hour. All items on the happy hour menu, including a number of signature cocktails, are $5. Food portions are big enough to share.
Licha’s Cantina has been serving the Austin community for four years. If you have an opportunity to sit down and talk to owner Daniel Brooks, he’ll tell you the restaurant has a lot of soul and a positive energy.
When asked about eventually expanding to a second location, he told me, “I don’t know if I could replicate the same feeling at a second location.” But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a second location in the near future. There’s something truly special about Licha’s. After one visit, you’ll be planning your next appearance as soon as possible.
1306 East 6th St. – Website
@amandalgagnon wants to know:
Have you been to Licha’s Cantina? What is your favorite dish there?