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Rita’s Cantina

9/2/2020

Are you up for something with a tropical feel while sipping margaritas on a breezy patio designed to cure coronavirus blues? Then head over to Rita’s Cantina. Located off S.E. Fifth Street, it’s close to East Village and occupies the building of the former SKOL and Mad Meatball.

The new digs are spruced up with a laid-back vibe. The highlight is the spacious patio with brightly colored patio chairs. Due to social distancing, the owners moved additional tables into a portion of the parking lot for more outdoor patio seating. An outdoor cocktail station offers drink choices for patrons waiting for tables.

Rita’s opened June 3 and is owned by Full Court Press. Kathleen Gill, district manager, says they were taken aback by how busy they were on opening day.

“We definitely started off busier than we anticipated and had to adapt to the crowds,” she says. “We’re at a good place now that we moved some things around.”

The eatery offers Tex-Mex fare with specialty margaritas — hence the name, Rita’s. House-made margaritas come on tap, either blended or on the rocks, with different flavors. A handful of rotating margarita flights include four flavors for $12.

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Happy hour at Rita’s is from 3-6 p.m. Specials include $2 off margaritas. Patrons can also choose from a full bar with more than nearly two dozen beers. One recent visitor was pleased that the Mexican beer Pacifico is served on tap — which is rare. A sharable mucho grande margarita costs $18 with as many straws as you want to divvy up with your friends.

Got cheese? A popular queso flight includes four types of white cheese. All come with a basket of chips and a thick, flavorful salsa. With some entrees, you can choose from different sauces, which are far more than the standard red or green. Seafood options round out the menu.

Inside, local artists lend their talents to unique paintings. The skull behind the bar is painted by bartender Dave Conner. “Taco Moines” wall painting is by Tony Zika.

Gill says the menu has changed since opening, with the chef incorporating patrons’ suggestions.

“We’re making changes to the menu, and the kitchen manager is taking feedback,” she says. “We appreciate everyone who stops by.”

During a warm Thursday evening, nearly every patio table was occupied and 6 feet apart. Kendra Perry and Louis Guitierrez stopped by for their first visit, ordering the mucho grande margarita. As they sipped the oversized concoction from the giant margarita glass, they smiled, remarking, “Once someone sees this come out, then you’ve got to order one.” ♦

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