Hong Kong may be a long way from Mexico City and Havana, but the team at Mamasita’s Cantina are planning to transport local diners overseas with tacos, tequila, cigars and much more. With a head chef imported from Mexico, a menu of real-deal, authentic street food and loads of Cuban rum — not to mention a party-ready bar and outdoor terrace — this newcomer is adding some much-needed Latin flavour to the local dining scene.
Whether you find Hong Kong’s Mexican restaurants amazing, adequate or abominable, you can certainly appreciate the city’s need for an establishment that aspires to serve more than just burritos and nachos. ‘It’s all Tex-Mex, chips out of a bag, frozen guacamole,’ says chef-entrepreneur Harlan Goldstein, describing the current state of Mexican cuisine here. During his eight-month ‘retirement’ last year, he visited Mexico and Cuba, and was inspired to bring the best of what he experienced there to Hong Kong. (This project is a two-storey concept, and the third of four dining projects to open this year under the auspices of chef-entrepreneur Harlan Goldstein at 8 Lyndhurst Terrace.)
To ensure that his vision of bringing 100% authentic Mexican cuisine could be realised, Goldstein convinced Mexican chef Edgar Navarro to relocate and oversee the new project. Following six months of menu development, Navarro has been given a supporting team of longtime Goldstein employees, and Mamasita’s Cantina is prepared to soft open to the public on Tuesday 20 September.
Diners who’ve already visited Ee Da Le or My Tai Tai will find a completely different experience upstairs. Entering on the sixth floor, guests will enter a colourful world inspired by Goldstein’s favourite film of all time, Scarface. (The 1983 picture tells the story of Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who arrives in Miami with no money and ends up becoming a drug kingpin.) Quotes from the movie — ‘All I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don’t break ‘em for no one’ is one example — as well as murals depicting scenes from Cuba, adorn the bar space.
Channeling the grit and glory of Old Havana, the bar serves Latin-inspired cocktails and a wide variety of spirits including nearly 20 rums, a few dozen tequilas, cachaça from Brazil and pisco from Peru. Outfitted with colourful murals, the bar will serve as a waiting area for the restaurant, but it aims to be a destination of its own, in no small part thanks to a 40-person outdoor terrace where patrons can smoke Cuban cigars. The terrace will be open year-round, with heating and air conditioning as needed, and the music will be funky and lively with a mix of reggaeton and R&B, making this a new party spot in the heart of Central.
Just downstairs, the restaurant is turning out authentic Mexican street food including ceviche, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and more. The tortillas are handmade with a recipe that’s been passed down for generations, and the ingredients in many dishes are sourced from Mexico. Aside from the authentic recipes and flavours, one reason to be excited is the offering of several items not often found on other Mexican menus, such as a spicy, warming tortilla soup; tamales, a sort of cornmeal cake filled with pork; and tacos filled with slow-cooked beef tongue.
The minimalist space, which can accommodate 80–90 diners, features a stripped-down aesthetic and an open kitchen on one end. Contrasting with the almost-industrial-looking walls are colourful plates, tiles and plants, as well as black and white photos captioned with handwritten notes. Though an interior staircase links both spaces, the idea is to keep the two floors largely separate in terms of ambiance — and that extends to Goldstein’s nightlife-impresario ambitions.
‘I’m going to turn it into a club, just give me two or three months,’ said Goldstein. ‘Upstairs will still be Cuban, and downstairs will be kind of an underground spot. Really underground, El Chapo-style.’ The idea is to turn the place into a sizzling spot on Friday and Saturday night, one with hot music, late-night food, tequila shots and cigars.
With its outdoor terrace, authentic food and wide range of Latin liquors, Mamasita’s Cantina has the potential to become a hot spot, at least according to its mastermind, who views it as unlike anything else in Hong Kong. As he puts it, ‘Where else would you want to go?’
Mamasita’s Cantina, 5/F & 6/F, 8 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2896 6118, mamasitas.hk
This feature is presented by ZS Hospitality Group.