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In Kids & Family

The playroom makes Rio West Cantina a fun place for kids.

In Kids & Family

While you're there, brush up on Spanish numbers.

In Kids & Family

Rio West Cantina was formerly Mondo Brothers Cafe.

Rio West Cantina appeals to los niños

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.


Talkbacks

erinlinn | May 5, 2008 at 9:26 a.m. (report)

I am surprised at all the bad experiences. We went with 4 of our friends and had agreat meal! We also joined the Tequila Club. Our waitress was greeat and we really liked our food. I will go back, but I hope my experience was not a FLUKE!!!!

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coleperson | April 26, 2008 at 1:46 p.m. (report)

6 ladies dined there last night - pleasant environment - tasty food and reasonable prices. We will definitely return!

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carriethecatt | March 12, 2008 at 2:26 p.m. (report)

I decided to give Rio West a shot, even though I hadn't heard great things about it, after Fuel denied me a sandwich at 8:20PM. I should have listened to the masses. It was terrible from the food to the service. Our waitress was most likely on drugs, or forgot to take them. Our food was greasy and bland. The margarita was good.

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Leslie | March 11, 2008 at 3:46 p.m. (report)

Pure disappointment!! I make better, more authentic, mexican food at home. And I am not even Mexican, I am Dutch!!

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cooters | March 4, 2008 at 3:20 p.m. (report)

Awful!! I recently dined at Rio West, my husband and I ordered some guacomole to start off with our chips and salsa. This was disgusting, very bitter and we found a peice of the avacado shell in the guacomole. He had the beef tacos, nothing to brag about they were very bland. The homemade box kit is better and Cheaper!! I had cheese enchilladas . . . I thought these were supposed to come melted. Mine were slightly warm but the cheese was not melted at all. We were very much looking forward to a good restaturant in the neighborhood, this doesn't even come close to good. I suggest the south side by far, it is worth the drive for the good food. This place is not even worth the walk down the street from our house.

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