By Rachel Werner

Only one gap remained unfilled in the downtown Madison culinary mecca—a taco joint capable of dishing up authentic Mexican eats and drinks. The Food Fight Restaurant Group has come to the rescue, acquiring the South Hamilton nook previously occupied by Nostrano. The group opened Canteen, its 20th restaurant in Dane County and the fifth establishment it’s launched in five years.

“This time it was the space that drew us. The prime real estate coupled with a smaller build-out were too good to pass up,” the group’s chief creative officer, Caitlin Suemnicht, says. “Plus the intimate quarters suit the theme of an upscale taqueria perfectly.”

The space’s bold floral wallpaper, reminiscent of a Frida Kahlo painting, creates as much buzz as the bar’s heavy-poured tequila and mezcal cocktails. Diners indulge on ample appetizers and sides like the “you can’t take just one bite” Beans with Crispy Rice; shucked and mouthwatering Street Corn; and complimentary Duritos, delicate wheat puffs flecked with tajín. The second course is pieced together by perusing a list of 10 assorted tacos, with the Carnitas, Fried Cauliflower and Barbacoa Beef Brisket topping the list as standouts.

“Despite the size and simplicity, it always feels like a unique experience. You can mix and match different tacos, sides and snacks—creating a new meal every time,” says Operations Manager Jordan Bright. He also encourages patrons to keep an open mind about the libations.

“Everyone is used to an overly sweet, one note (frozen) margarita,” he explains. “We wanted to bring it back and give the drink some long-needed integrity, so we jazzed it up with some yellow chartreuse, hibiscus tea and a healthy dose of tequila to make a crowd favorite.” No wonder it pairs so nicely with the Chorizo Breakfast Burrito during weekend brunch service—or that we’re thrilled Canteen stays open until bar time. canteentaco.com.

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