Have a Vegetarian Taste of the Unexpected Mexican Fusion at Harlem’s Cantina 1838


At Cantina 1838 (1838 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard; 646-755-8864), the kitchen fuses Mexican food with unexpected elements such as falafel and quinoa. And while the restaurant doesn’t cater to vegetarians specifically, it’s a place where herbivores will find plenty to eat. “To be honest, [vegetarian food is] not something we made a point to have as part of the menu, but it is something a lot of people want,” says co-owner James Spence. “That’s why it’s there, and it sells really well on the menu.”

Cantina 1838 is Spence’s first foray into the restaurant business — it’s his baby, as he likes to call it. Situated in the basement of the apartment building where he lives, the space is cozy, with a menu that features almost as many vegetarian dishes as meat items.

The kale and brussels sprouts rice bowl ($12) comes with the option of yellow rice or quinoa and features a bell pepper and onion medley, as well as black beans. We went with the yellow rice, which is actually jasmine rice that has been cooked with turmeric and tomato to give it the yellow-orange color. The brussels sprouts were grilled until crispy, as were the kale and bell pepper medley — even the kale had some crunch.

You can have Cantina 1838’s tacos as an appetizer (two tacos) or entree (three tacos). Typically, you’re only allowed to order tacos that are of equal value, but when we asked, the restaurant made an exception and let us order one falafel taco ($8/$13) and one baja tofu and wild mushroom taco ($8.50/$13).

The restaurant’s falafel taco is an interesting, Mexicanized take on a falafel sandwich. Two falafel balls came in a crunchy flour tortilla with cucumber pico de gallo and tangy ranch aioli; the latter added hints of dill, chives, and parsley. It was nicely supplemented by the baja tofu and wild mushroom taco, which arrived in two baked corn tortillas, loaded with pungent tomatillo sauce.


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