Reception of Monarca Cantina in the town square (photos)

Medina, Ohio – If you thought Mexican food was just a few different tacos, some chips, salsa, and a few other items, you’d be wrong and enjoy Monarca Cantina’s menu.

Owner Juan Bravo and Chef Victor Conrique opened the upscale Mexican restaurant last month in Public Square, but the formal greeting was delivered on Friday afternoon with a full bar cut with dignitaries and exclusives.

Conrique said the city seemed like a vibrant fit.

“There are a lot of people here,” he said. “The arena is great.”

Bravo is part of the Blue Habanero property team in the Gordon Square neighborhood of Cleveland and Tres Potrillos three miles to the east in Medina, Ohio 18. Conrique is a trained chef from Jalisco, Mexico, and has been here for five years.

Conrique designed the menu keeping in mind the specific regional origins of the different dishes. For example, molé—a traditional and unique marinade used in many dishes—is associated with Puebla, he said, while carne en su jugo, a meat dish cooked in sauce, is from his native state. Jalisco is located on the central west coast of Mexico and is lined with the Pacific Ocean.

The menu offers many variations of tempting and always popular tacos, but adventurous dishes are under specials, including fleur de calavazza (squash blossom stuffed with queso plaster, marinated and lightly fried over red sauce and served with tortillas) and seafood monarca (shrimp, scallops and salmon). Fried in olive oil with roasted garlic with red onion, tomato and avocado). Both are served with white rice, coriander and lemon.

Over 70 tequilas are served alongside margaritas (and margarita rides) along with about a half-dozen beer offerings, mainly Mexican ales. The lighter style of beer pairs well with the food.

“Some people ask for IPAs (India Pale Ales), but I say ‘You can try one of these,'” Conrique said.

The space was once home to the Amuse Euro Bistro as well as the Lager & Vine gastropub. Now it has a distinctly Latin feel, with huge color prints depicting the famous artist Frida Kahlo and others. Giant masks hang along one of the walls.

The bar is located a few steps in front. Three televisions are hung in the middle of the multi-sided bar, which seats about 15 people.

The narrow and long space leads to the dining area, which opens with elegant décor, hanging metal globe lighting, colorful art, and various textures. A beautiful lighted tree statue stands in the middle of the dining room. A contrasting mural of muted tones depicting the eras of the old city lines on one wall, showing the history of the square, the gazebo and the horse-drawn carriages. Simple private dining room at the back for 25 people.

On Friday, community leaders appeared, from Mayor Dennis Hanwell, Ohio Representative Sharon Ray, Chamber of Commerce members and others.

Maria Brita, a local realtor and friend of the owners, said the restaurant brings an authentic “taste of Mexico” to diners.

“If you ever set foot on Mexican soil, this is a piece of Mexico,” she said, noting that Monarca offers “an awareness of how much Mexico has to offer.”

This is a worthy culinary goal. Too many Mexican restaurants rely on a few tried-and-true dishes, and the only experience many Americans have with Mexican cuisine is fast food or fast food. But it is much more than that and, like any ethnic cuisine, has dishes that are endemic to different regions.

The name means monarch, as in the monarch butterflies that migrate from Canada to Mexico. Brita said they are resilient, just like the owners in their quest to bring a delicious dining experience to the Medina.

George Sam of Medina’s Main Street said that shopping has always been popular in the square, but after businesses closed, restaurants have become a fulcrum – keeping the area alive and willing to collaborate on mutual promotional projects for the greater common good.

“I think people are looking for a variety of foods, different price ranges, and food styles,” he said. “We try to be diverse in our community, and this is an example of that. We are happy with our new experiences coming to Medina.”

if you go: Monarca Cantina

Site: 108 Public Square, Medina, about 32 miles from downtown Cleveland.

parking: Street spaces are everywhere.

hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

I’m on cleveland.comThe Life and Culture team covers food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, This is a guide on cleveland.com. Bill Wills from WTAM-1100 and I usually talk about food and drink at 8:20 am on a Thursday. Twitter: @ mbona30.

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