Downtown’s northern waterfront will net a new eatery this fall when Tequila Comida & Cantina opens a new location near the Port City Marina.
Brothers Miguel and Ramón Villaseñor are working to bring their contemporary Mexican concept to a waterfront footprint beside Marina Grill on Harnett Street as soon as this September. The two-story space will include a first-floor dining room with seats for about 150 customers, plus a lounge area on the second floor, where the brothers envision lining the walls with top-shelf tequilas and mezcals.
“The second floor is going to be a tequila library. You can hang out and sit while you wait for your table,” Miguel Villaseñor said. A bartender upstairs will be available to serve drinks crafted with the library’s inventory, he added.
Outside, an L-shaped patio overlooking the Cape Fear River can seat another 100 people.
“It’s a great view that we have there,” Ramón Villaseñor said.
Those dining inside can enjoy waterfront views through ample windows throughout the restaurant. Like the original Tequila Comida & Cantina on Carolina Beach Road, the downtown location will be bright with color. The brothers mentioned graffiti as an inspiration for the aesthetic, and they plan to import decorations from Mexico to create the right vibe for the space.
“It’s going to have a nice, warm atmosphere,” Miguel Villaseñor said.
Many of Tequila’s most popular dishes – among them Pescado a la Talla, Cochinita Pibil and Salmon al Mezcal – will be served downtown, but the menu there will be smaller than its Carolina Beach Road counterpart to accommodate the higher level of volume the brothers anticipate in the new location.
“We’re hoping to be busier over there. I don’t want to overwhelm the kitchen,” said Ramón Villaseñor. “So we want to shrink the menu and focus on plates that are really different from others in the area.”
The original Tequila Comida & Cantina opened in 2018 to showcase the culinary skills developed by Ramón Villaseñor after enrolling in Cape Fear Community College’s culinary arts program in 2014. Miguel Villaseñor described the food at the brothers’ other ventures — Los Portales Supermarket on Kerr Avenue and three Los Portales Taqeurias across Wilmington – as simpler cuisine. The taquerias serve the kind of fare typically sold by street vendors in Mexico, he noted, and the supermarket’s kitchen is akin to the food prepared by Mexican home cooks.
“All the food we cook there is like your mom cooking in your own house: the chile verde, mole, carnitas,” Miguel Villaseñor said.
For Tequila’s menu, Ramón Villaseñor channeled the flavors of modern Mexican cuisine to create something more vibrant and upscale.
“I’m bringing flavors from Guerrero, Nayarit, Jalisco,” Ramón Villaseñor said.
Opening a second Tequila Comida & Cantina location is just one of the moves currently underway by the entrepreneurs, who are also pursuing plans to open a second Los Portales Supermarket on a currently vacant lot at 9 Sunnyvale Drive next year.
The new supermarket is slated to be similar to its Kerr Avenue predecessor with an on-site butcher shop, bakery, tortilleria and kitchen plus an inventory of about 10,000 products from countries across Central and South America. The brothers began hunting for properties for a second supermarket near the Los Portales Taqueria on Carolina Beach Road about two years ago.
“The one on Kerr, it’s so busy all day, every day. It’s hard to park there,” Miguel Villaseñor said.
Pending approval from the city, the brothers plan to construct a 7,000-square-foot building to house the new supermarket, which will offer one addition unmatched by its Kerr Avenue counterpart: house-made spice blends and dry rubs for customers to take home with fresh cuts of meat from the butcher shop.
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