There’s a zesty new dining option in the ByWard Market with the recent opening of Zak’s Cantina, an authentic Mexican-style diner offering up all the bold flavours and vibrant atmosphere of Central America. It’s the latest business by successful Ottawa restaurateur John Borsten and his team, which includes Kate Rutledge, who also co-owns Zak’s Diner in Kanata.
Located beside the original Zak’s Diner, the Cantina offers family-friendly fare in a casual, fully-accessible environment, with a menu that has enough variety to be universally appealing. “We love Mexican food and I am from Guatemala so it is exciting to have a chance to share the culture I know so well,” explains Sofia Santiso Borsten, who handles marketing and advertising for the company.
In addition to a bright décor featuring loads of accessories the Borstens acquired in Mexico, a South American bus offers visual interest and a fun seating area. “We call it the ‘chicken bus’ because in South America, people transport just about anything by public transit, including animals,” explains Sofia. One can only imagine how many times that bus will be featured on Instagram and Snapchat!
After a month in business, Sofia says they’re ready to add new elements to the menu. “We’re now serving Zak’s Diner’s famous milkshakes and we’re in the midst of creating a brunch menu. We’re also planning to add some all-day Mexican breakfast options.”
Sofia explains that many of the dishes they serve are based on popular Mexican street food. Among the most popular menu items are the tacos, crazy corn, the drunken flautas, enchiladas, quesadillas and nachos, all made, like everything else at the Cantina, in-house with fresh ingredients. Another specialty is a Guatamalan-inspired “Street Dog,” a foot-long hot dog wrapped in bacon and topped with fresh salsa, shredded lettuce, refried beans, avocado ranch and tortilla straws. Of course there are lots of great beverages to complement the food, including sangria, Micheladas (a beer-based cocktail), margaritas and lots of mocktails too.
“We have worked hard to strike a balance between a place that feels authentically Mexican and one that will appeal to a wide range of tastes, and I believe we’ve achieved that,” notes Sofia. “One of the most rewarding things we hear is when people from Central America come in and tell us the Cantina feels like home.”