Upon entering La Cabanita, we were greeted with every possible piece of decor you could imagine when picturing a Mexican-style restaurant: Colorful paper banners hanging across the ceiling, brightly painted walls, talavera printed tile on each table and across the bar, and beautiful murals showcasing key locations and scenes in Mexican culture. It was clear that the owners poured their love of their roots into the look and feel of La Cabanita. In a narrow hallway just beyond the bar are countless pictures lining the walls of celebrities and news anchors who all have paid visits and dined there. Among the notable names were Dolly Parton, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Lucia Navarro, and many other Noticiero news anchors. While we waited to be seated, we sat at the bar for chips and salsa which quickly revealed themselves among my many favorites. There were two salsas — one green, the other deep red. While the darker salsa appeared to be spicier, it did not have nearly as much kick or flavor as the bright green version, which we couldn’t seem to get enough of. It had a very slight kick to it, but the flavor was unbelievable.

Once seated, each of us knew what we wanted. We quickly ordered the carnitas a la cabanita ($17.99), the pozole ($13.95), and green enchiladas ($16.95). While the three traditional dishes are so different, they were each amazing in their own ways. The carnitas are made of deep fried pork served with frijoles charro (beans with bacon and chorizo), rice, a small side salad, guacamole, and handmade tortillas. Quite often carnitas tend to be on the dry side, but not those at La Cabanita. They simmered in small pieces, allowing the meat to cook more evenly and remain soft and flavorful. This combined with the bacon and chorizo in the beans created and outstanding dish, with leftovers for lunch the next day. Even on the warm day we visited, the pozole made complete sense. It’s something that most Mexican restaurants offer, although often on weekends only, and yet, it’s difficult to make well. La Cabanita, however, excels at this dish. It is made with pork, and the broth had all the key notes in it to make the mixture flavorful and fulfilling. The ratio of ingredients was great, yet the $13.95 mixture per bowl seemed to be stretching it a tad. Nonetheless, it was delicious.

Next up, the green chile chicken enchiladas were equally loved by the table as well. Poured over the cheesy rolls were a delicious green salsa, sour cream and cheese. The enchiladas were then served with rice and black beans on the side. Something interesting about La Cabanita is that most of their combination plates and dishes are served with black beans, rather than the more traditional refried or pinto beans. They can be substituted, but it seemed unique to have black beans as the default. One of my dining companions whose favorite food is Mexican was thrown off by this, but I can attest they were amazing either way.

Another seemingly simple food staple that can still easily go awry is red rice, and La Cabanita does not scrimp on their authentic flavors. Some restaurants forego authenticity for aesthetics or a more appealing texture, but their rice tasted like the kind my grandmother makes on the rare occasion she visits from out of state. Suffice to say, I ate my entire side of rice thinking about fond memories with her — and those items you can’t buy at gimmicky chain restaurants.

We also ordered one green chicken tamale ($3.75) after falling in love with their food to see how one of my favorite Mexican dishes holds up. Not surprisingly, the tamale was amazing. Growing up, my father would always say the way to tell if a tamale was good was by the masa alone, and this pillowy, chewy, flavorful dough would be highly approved by him. The tamales also tasted like memories of home and December gatherings with my aunts who would line up for hours at a time to make some of the best tamales I’ve ever tasted. The tamales at La Cabanita easily brought me that much joy, from the chicken down to the flavor-packed green sauce. I don’t know how I managed to eat all that I did, and then order flan for the dessert ($6.25). The friendly waitress let me know it is made in-house and comes in three flavors: vanilla which is the traditional, coconut, and pecan, and they all happen to be gluten free. We went with vanilla, and I was so glad I did. This flan was a great shareable grand finale to our dinner, and had every aspect I hope for in flan: firm yet gooey consistency and a sweet taste that is not overwhelming.

There was not a single thing that I wished were different, and the staff was so friendly. I’m actually looking forward to going much more often. After having been seated for 15 minutes, my friend pointed out that there were no people (I counted one) sitting on their phones during their meal and conversation with whom they were eating. In 2019 that is nearly impossible, so either all of the guests were each equally polite, or La Cabanita is serving up food that is so good that you need to set your phone down for the entirety of dinner. Of course, it’s the latter. It is also family friendly, with a full bar (hello margarita carafes) and endless amounts of other dishes I’d love to try, and likely will when we return in the not too distant future.