Home Lifestyles Food and Wine MEXICAN STEW IS WORTH A TRIP TO THE WEST END

MEXICAN STEW IS WORTH A TRIP TO THE WEST END

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June 28, 2001- At last, West Enders of St. Thomas, you have your own Mexican restaurant! You no longer need to drive to Tillett Gardens for enchiladas, fajitas and quesadillas. The Sunset Cantina on the shore of Gregerie East can fulfill most of your fondest desires.
And, East Enders, be advised: It is worth a trip through town to sample the Sunset Cantina's menudo. This Mexican stew should even appeal to those who favor West Indian food, with its mixture of beef tripe, pigs' feet, hominy, garlic and seasonings. Throw in a chili broth and serve with chopped onion, oregano, lemon wedges and corn tortillas, and you have a meal meant to be savored.
The enchiladas are filled with spicy meat — chicken or beef — or you can opt for the veggie version stuffed with chopped onion and cheese. All are all redolent of enchilada sauce and smothered with white and yellow cheese. I can recommend all three, all of which are served with pinto beans and seasoned rice.
And then there are the tamales. I'm a great fan of tamale sauce, which gives me several points to ponder. The Sunset Cantina's tamales are corn meal-wrapped beef or chicken that in turn is wrapped in corn husks. The entire production, about two inches in diameter, is drenched in sauce. You unwrap the things, suck the juice off your fingers and dig in.
In fact, the best way to eat tamales and beans is with your fingers, using tortillas to mop up the soft and runny stuff. The Cantina tamales are okay. Their sauce is very good, but the entire experience is simply too refined — too dry.
Word to the wise: If you like to wallow in your food, ask for some extra sauce.
Second word to the wise: If you do not appreciate hot sauce for dipping your tortilla chips, ask for mild sauce. Real Mexican food is not hot. Tex-Mex is hot — I tend to think it is because people who migrated to Texas are masochists. You will not be insulting any Maya or Aztec gods if you do not suffer.
The Sunset Cantina has the obligatory beers and hard liquor. I find Newcastle ale to be an excellent accompaniment to Mexican food. The various Mexican and wanna-be Mexican beers are fine until something better comes along. Bottom line: Something better came along — Newcastle on tap at the Cantina. I appreciate Mexican and West Indian peppers, but when I get too much of a good thing, the Newcastle brew does the job of restoring my palate.
The Sunset Cantina is a bit off the beaten path, but the environment on the West Gregerie bulkhead is worth the effort of getting there. Off Veterans Drive, you turn toward the water at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and drive past the Coca-Cola bottling plant toward Frenchtown. At the second turn to the right there is a blue sign on a power pole pointing down the road. Follow it to the water and pull into the gravel stretch on the left. The entrance to the bar and restaurant are at the end of the two-story building on the water.
The restaurant is right on the water, and you can watch the traffic between Gregerie Channel and the cut into the Charlotte Amalie harbor. In the evening, the tourist vessel Leylon Sneed and the party raft Kon Tiki sometimes tie up right there.
The restrooms are satisfactory and were clean the evening I visited. There were two toilet paper dispensers and one had paper. There were two soap dispensers and one had soap. There were two methods of drying your hands, but the paper dispenser was empty and the blow-dry didn't work. Oh, well, my slacks were relatively clean.
According to a friend from Southern California who was raised in a Mexican environment, there are no real Mexican restaurants on St. Thomas. I tend to agree. In recent years, Polli's has generally been considered the best of what passes for Mexican locally. Now welcome the Sunset Cantina as another leading entry. I know I want some more of that menudo.
Sunset Cantina
Ambience: 4 stars
Food: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Value: 4 stars
Gregerie East Channel, west end of Frenchtown, dockside
(340) 777-4014
Lunch/Dinner 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
South of the Border
Amex, Visa, MasterCard

Editor's note: The Tottering Taster is a senior citizen dedicated to enjoying good food who periodically dines in local establishments to bring Source readers unsolicited assessments biased in favor of an ultimate eating-out experience. The individual uses a pseudonym so restaurant personnel will not be able to identify the reviewer and try to influence the review.

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