photo credit: Cantina Monarca
Cantina Monarca is a self-proclaimed “modern Mexican” spot that has likely set out to transport you to a tropical day club. In reality, it’s a corporate restaurant covered in warped blonde wood at a Bellevue shopping mall right next to Nordstrom Rack.
Unfortunately, this setting is the most interesting part of the whole experience. Cantina Monarca is an overpriced and underwhelming Mexican restaurant that adds ingredients to simple dishes until we no longer recognize them. This amount of bad remixing should only happen between a Las Vegas DJ and literally any ‘90s Europop song.
We’ll start with what works. The tacos are reliable, with fillings like wagyu steak or pork belly with pineapple pico de gallo. By far, the battered sea bass taco is Cantina Monarca's best dish, with a crunchy exterior, soft and flaky middle, and an apple slaw that brightens it up. Stick with tacos if you’re stuck here.
Onto the bad. It’s seemingly hard to screw up chips and guacamole, and yet, Cantina Monarca’s lineup of luxe topping combinations ruin it, like pungent goat cheese and “compressed watermelon” (a.k.a. just watermelon). Not to mention that the avocado could have spent some more time ripening in the fruit bowl. The tostada de atún looks like a dollhouse appetizer. Three measly shards of fried tortilla are topped with avocado hunks in desperate need of salt, and tuna overpowered by chipotle sauce to the point where the tuna's only purpose is to hike up the price tag.
For salsa and enchilada-induced bliss, look elsewhere. There are plenty of delicious Mexican restaurants in Seattle that are more reasonably priced and just straight-up better. Sure, you could use Cantina Monarca to swipe your corporate card in exchange for margaritas with your team. But you'd probably have more fun doing that at Cactus.
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Tostada de Atún
No need to order this tiny tostada trio with tuna overshadowed by chipotle sauce and sour pickled onion.
Truffle Potato Taquito
Think gummy mashed potatoes topped with too much truffle oil, wrapped in a corn tortilla, and deep-fried. They're three great ingredients, only gone horribly wrong.
Like the name suggests, we are also torn on these chicken tinga enchiladas topped with guajillo tomato sauce on one side, and poblano tomatillo broth on the other. Not bad, but not great either—it’s a boring, safe choice.
This blue crab-stuffed taquito drizzled with guajillo aioli tastes like something you could get in the frozen section of Costco. And we love Costco food, but would prefer to pay a reasonable member-discounted price for it.
Cazuela Plate with Birria
The cazuela plate is essentially a burrito bowl with elevated ingredients, like power greens, queso panela, and xni-pec. It’s a safe bet when you need something a bit more filling than tacos. However, your wallet will probably be happier at a counter spot.
Baja Sea Bass Taco
We would like to be eating these poolside under an umbrella.
Wagyu Chingon Taco
The meat in this taco is nicely charred. But a heavy pour of salsa and guacamole masks the wagyu and makes the whole thing fall apart.
Sakura Pork Belly Taco
Complete with a tropical pico de gallo and earthy achiote, this tender pork belly taco is a good move to make—order one of these and a fish taco.