Just one step inside the BelAir Cantina restaurant and the mouthwatering smell of food rolled over me. I hadn’t been feeling too hungry prior to getting on the waitlist but suddenly I was ravenous.
BelAir Cantina is a restaurant known for its tacos and tequila selections. On their website, they describe themselves as a “Mexican-fusion” restaurant, where “Oaxacan meets L.A. food truck style cuisine.”
The Madison branch is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just around the corner from the Capitol building, making it an easy walk from campus.
Though it took 40 minutes to get seated, we walked in without a reservation at the height of dinner rush on a Thursday. The restaurant was packed from the moment we entered to the minute the kitchen closed at 10 p.m. — just another mark of how popular BelAir is in the Madison area.
From the patrons to the staff, most were college-aged and everyone seemed to be having a great time. The walls were wood paneled, and complemented with decorative tile and bright colors all over the restaurant. The music only added to the upbeat and colorful – but not overwhelming – vibe. Each element had an authentic, yet modern, twist.
Our server was helpful in narrowing down our food options from the expansive menu — because every option looked so good we had trouble making a choice. We decided to start our night with chips and salsa ($2) from the appetizer menu.
The chips were house-made, per the menu. They came out hot and fresh with three house salsas, each more delicious than the last.
For our main courses, we got two zihuatanejo shrimp tacos, a corn and black bean taco, and a carnitas taco, as well as a birria bowl ($14.51). The tacos are usually a little over $4, but Tuesdays and Thursdays boast “$2 taco night” deals, knocking $8 off our bill.
The food came quickly and defied description by way of deliciousness. The birria bowl was as big as my head and for $14, well worth the price. I took half the bowl and a taco home.
Three and a half meals, a delicious appetizer and a virgin horchata for the price tag of $27 (not including tip) is definitely affordable for an every-once-in-a-while treat, though I recommend calling ahead about reservations and wait times – learn from my mistake!
Overall, Belair Cantina was a great experience. It is walkable from campus, affordable for students and offers great vibes. I will be going again.