When Russ Davis opened his latest venture, Rio West Cantina, 2730 N. Humboldt Blvd., he took kid diners into account. Hence, the Mexican restaurant is lively and spacious, with a playroom designed especially for kids. The addition of the child-friendly space made our recent visit with two kindergarteners a pleasant experience.
The playroom is cozy -- able to accommodate, at most, a dozen kids at a time -- with colorful piñatas hanging from the ceiling. The walls are adorned with animal murals featuring their Spanish names displayed beneath and plenty of chalkboards so kids can scribble away before suppertime. Rubber snakes, puzzles, books and blocks are scattered on a large table with sitting pillows around it. We particularly appreciated the option to have the television on or off (we chose off).
We got to the restaurant for an early dinner, just after 4 p.m., and the server opened the playroom for us. It was somewhat surprising to notice that no one had cleaned up from the night before -- it looked much like our eternally messy playroom at home -- however the kids didn't mind and dove right into having fun.
As the only diners in the place, we were able to claim the table next to the play room, so while our kids entertained themselves, we could monitor them while kicking back, drinking margaritas and munching on complementary chips and salsa.
The margaritas ($3.50) -- which we really liked -- reminded us of Conejito's version, but with even more salt on the rim. The chips and salsa were good, too, with fresh cilantro in the salsa. We decked out our pre-meal experience with an order of guacamole ($4.95), which was chunky with avocado pieces and chopped tomatoes. Oddly, it had a slight taste of chicken, which prompted us to ask the waitress if chicken stock was used in the recipe. She said it wasn't, but took the guacamole off our bill anyway which we thought was an unexpected -- and very customer-friendly -- action.
For dinner, we ordered combination platters for $7.95. Each plate comes with the option of corn or flour tacos, and beef, chicken or vegetable filling. We found the beans to be very good, and the veggies (Portobello mushrooms, tomatoes and onions) sautéed to perfection. Unfortunately, the tamales were hard on the edges, dry on the inside and seemed as if they were over-microwaved.
Everything on the kids' menu is $3.99. Options include a cheese quesadilla, tacos, chicken fingers, mini chimichanga and more. My kids ordered the cheese quesadillas, which were nothing special, but they scarfed them down.
In addition to the Rio West Cantina, Davis owns Lakefront Palm Gardens, Café Vecchio Mondo, Riverwalk Boat & Tours and Bella Luna Pasta, which is in the same building as the new cantina. Before Rio West, Davis used the space as a cafe and natural foods grocery store called Mondo Brothers Cafe.
Overall, the food at Rio West Contina isn't outstanding, but it's decent Tex-Mex fare and affordable. We appreciate the kid-friendly environment, and hope the management continues to maintain and improve the playroom. We'll definitely go back.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.