- 2350 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY, 40206
- (502) 895-3333
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
By my reckoning there are well over 100 sit-down restaurants in Metro Louisville that specialize in some aspect of Mexican food.
We have chef-driven places including Mayan Cafe, Guaca Mole and El Mundo; and places that have a highly specialized niche, like roasted chicken at Rosticeria Luna (5213 Preston Highway). And nearly all of us live within a few minutes of a restaurant where the bill of fare includes familiar items such as burritos, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, chips and salsa — and where the beverage list includes cold beer and colorful margaritas.
Nearly all those places dish up generous, satisfying, inexpensive meals. But once in a while you discover one that’s a bit distinctive — like Ramiro’s Cantina.
Ramiro’s Cantina is owned by Ramiro Gandara — a longtime parter in the Sol Aztecas group. The Cantina was formerly part of Sol Aztecas (Gandara took it independent and renamed it earlier this year). It occupies a grand old Frankfort Avenue house that’s previously been home to Furlong’s and Sweet Pea’s, and has pleasant old-school trappings like distressed hardwood floors, a green and gold color scheme, plenty of televisions, a pleasant bar and spaces broken up to create a cozy sense of intimacy.
Service is quick and friendly (and on a given night you’re quite likely to hear some pretty vigorous singing from the staff — assuming any customers happen to be celebrating birthdays).
What sets Ramiro’s apart from many of its competitors is a kitchen that creates the sort of fresh, vivid flavors we want from Mexican food, but so seldom find.
That’s the work of Gandara’s mother, Ernestina Escajeda; her family roots are in the Juarez/El Paso Borderplex, and when you tuck into her better dishes, you get a sense that she really knows how to wrangle flavors. She also has a good eye for building bright, artful presentations that please the hungry eye from the moment the dishes arrive at the table.
Guacamole ($5.49), prepared from scratch three times a day, is lush and zippy. Chile con queso is $5.99, and for a dollar up charge you can boost the flavor with ingredients like poblano peppers, chorizo or a dash of pico de gallo. Complimentary chips come with two salsas (one of which has a serious burn).
The menu includes an assortment of salads ($4.99-$9.99), tortilla soup and chili ($2.99/$4.99), and an assortment of combo plates that allow diners to mix and match burritos, tamales, tacos and the like ($8.99-$9.99), as well as entrees featuring grilled steak, chicken, shrimp and pork in a variety of settings: shrimp Diablo in a spicy ranchero sauce ($12.99), or grilled chicken marinated in tequila, lime and beer ($9.99).
We were impressed by dishes like enchiladas cilantro ($10.99) — juicy, savory chicken wrapped in tender tortillas, dressed in green with a lively cilantro sauce, and by shrimp quesadillas ($13.99) stuffed with exquisitely fresh shrimp (shipped in daily from the Gulf of Mexico, we were told), and dressed up with onions, bell peppers and cheese — and if the shrimp didn’t look to be “jumbo,” as described, there were enough of them that we didn’t care.
The dramatic sizzle and smell of fajitas are among the best parts of Mexican dining, and Ramiro’s does a good job with that as well — delivering the grilled goods in an enormous black vessel (Gandara calls it a molcajete) filled to the brim. Chicken, tilapia, shrimp and steak fajitas are available ($14.99-$17.99, but vegetarian fajita — onions, peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms, with plenty of sides ($10.49) — was perfectly satisfying (and large enough to split).
A fried chimichanga carnitas ($11.49) fell short of the fantasy. Crisp, it wasn’t — it felt as if it might have rested too long under a heat lamp while waiting for other dishes. But there was no faulting the flavorful cubes of marinated pork that stuffed the center — or the saucy accents, or the spicy bowl of charro beans that was served alongside.
And of course there are margaritas (and martinis), tall glasses of draft beer and, yes, housemade desserts — including creamy slabs of flan.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.