Restaurant Review: Cabo Cantina

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Though a river runs through it, Columbus is surprisingly dry in the scenic aquatic dining department. So you'd think a nice restaurant constructed on an alluringly foresty riverbank would be a no-brainer, can't-miss success.

Unfortunately, there's exactly such a distinctly pretty site in north Columbus with a reputation for possibly being cursed - it's where a former Gibby's and a once-terrific La Tavola restaurant have both sadly sputtered out.

Hoping to buck that trend is Cabo Cantina, a new venture from the Historic Dublin Restaurants group, aka the owners of Tucci's, Oscar's and two Brazenheads. On a recent stormy evening, I went to check out the month-old place.

As I pulled up to the rambling and handsome stone-lodge-looking establishment, my first thought was that maybe that building's luck was changing - it had been untouched by the storms plaguing the rest of the city.

Inside I noticed Cabo had closed up La Tavola's once-open kitchen, and the smart, cavernous, mildly refurbished space with floor-to-ceiling windows was swarming with vociferously chatting people checking out its new identity. The longish bar area was packed, too.

But it was outside, on the locally unique patio, where my interests wandered, and luckily I was able to be seated on that lovely wooden deck. It was quite a contrast from the bustling interior.

Pushed up against and hovering just below the treeline, it was relatively quiet on the patio. All those nearby dense leaves and umbrellas over every table filtered the early-evening August sun as the Scioto River rippled in a lazy, cooling breeze. Spiky Southwestern-looking potted plants topped the long fencepost barrier that keeps back the woods. The piped-out murmuring salsa music didn't even try to drown out the scratchy summery insect sounds or an overall mood of near serenity.

How was the food? Well, hit and miss. In my sort of pricey Trio Dip appetizer ($10), I got: a liquidy-thin, melty, cheesy artichoke dip that wasn't very artichokey; a single-dimensional guacamole missing cilantro, chili, onions and tomato; and a good-tasting guajillo and black bean dip that would have been better served warm instead of cold.

The Big Bang Burrito ($10) was pretty good in an unsubtle, spicily meat-tastic, kitchen-sink sort of way. Stuffed with chorizo, chicken, pork, beans and pickled jalapenos and decorated with sweet and spicy pork stew plus sour cream, it certainly was a mammoth mouthful.

Encouragingly I found an all-out winner from the most interesting section of the menu - the Specialties of the Casa. Called Spicy and Crunchy Tilapia ($14), it was a hulking piece of clean-tasting fish with a crispy crust and perfectly cooked interior.

Drenched in an easy-to-love chili, tomato and cream sauce, it was topped with a sparking-up bright green jalapeno pesto and draped over a wonderful - and scene-stealing - pork belly, plantain and hominy hash.

As should be for a newbie, Cabo Cantina's menu is still in flux and a new menu is due to be printed soon. Hopefully it'll keep that terrific tilapia, because it's a dish that can stand up to the unparalleled patio - and that bodes well for Cabo's potential longevity.

For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog Under the Table

Cabo Cantina

6125 Riverside Dr., Dublin