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DINING: Indiana Avenue spot gets 2-story tequila/taco bar

February 27, 2016
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Because chips and salsa are pricey at Corner Cantina, better to upgrade to the Nachos Cantina. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

A restaurant trouble spot gets another shot at success as Corner Cantina (543 Indiana Ave., 749-0702) takes over the two-story, balconied spot that once housed Zing and New Orleans on the Avenue.

With IUPUI nearby, the Madame Walker Theatre Center across the street, and canal condos just around the corner, the odds seem to be increasingly in favor of this location. But it’s going to take a little more attention to detail to retain repeat customers in the current incarnation.

For starters, if you are going to have a large open window with the kitchen visible from the street and sidewalk, consider getting rid of some of the unattractive storage bins and other clutter. The experience of a restaurant begins before you step through the doorway.

Once inside Corner Cantina, with bars and tables both downstairs and up—and more seating on the balcony in nicer weather—you’ve got options. And the segmented spaces help keep the place from feeling empty even if only a few tables are filled.

When a Mexican restaurant charges for Corn Tortilla Chips ($4.95 with a choice of salsas), it’s hard to resist upgrading instead. We started with the Nachos Cantina ($9.95) which featured those same chips with queso, salsa Fresca, guacamole, jalapenos and a choice of pulled pork verde, roasted chicken, braised beef or sauteed vegetables. We went with the beef, and found half of a terrific platter. Initially, all was fine—with ample beef and good, gooey cheese. Once we got past the satisfying surface, though, the chips were rendered soggy and unable to do their job. Also, the guac could have used more seasoning and the queso was a tad grainy.

The Puffy Taco Trio ($12.95) housed ground beef, roasted chicken or slow-cooked pork—plus lettuce and Oaxaca cheese—in fried shells in which an oily taste overwhelmed, leaving me to abandon the shells and eat the innards with a fork. Beans and rice supplemented nicely. The substantial Chimichangas ($14.95) featured a well-packed, crispy tortilla with the same packing choices as the tacos.

I’m thankful we had a Pomegranate Paloma ($7) and a Cantina Margarita ($8) with which to wash it all down. Each of the drinks had a boldness that I hope eventually rubs off on the kitchen. Heads up: The bar assumed we wanted ours heavily salted. If you prefer not, make sure to speak up when you order.

Final note: Corner Cantina should consider stressing the fact that it has its own parking lot (not clearly marked as of yet) and that parking meters in this quadrant of the city are free after 6 p.m. Fear of parking concerns can make some customers resist what should be a lively, active corner.•

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