A California catfish catch: Cantina Loca offers Buffalo’s premier fish tacos

By Melanie Nguyen
Food Beat Reporter

Any time someone asks me for a restaurant recommendation, I usually have a roster rolling through my head. But if I was to recommend one right now, it would have to be Cantina Loco, Authentic Mexican food with a California flare.
I remember the first time I stumbled into Cantina Loco on a cold and snowy winter’s night after a long night class with a friend. Hungry and cold, but not in the mood for any of the typical Elmwood Taco fare, we decided to take the trip to see what Allentown had to offer. When we saw the dark exterior of Cantina Loco, we didn’t think much of it besides the blaring neon sign above the entrance. Too tired to walk further, we hustled through the door and were greeted with a warm ambiance with loud music and even louder guests. In-between an upscale bar and a family restaurant, the clientele was filled with young adults by the bar and crowded at the tables.

Succulent fish tacos filled Melanie Nguyen's belly, and they can fill yours, too, for just $6.        Photo by Melanie Nguyen/Food Beat Reporter

Succulent fish tacos filled Melanie Nguyen’s belly, and they can fill yours, too, for just $6.
Photo by Melanie Nguyen/Food Beat Reporter

The interior was laced with intricate Mexican paintings and rustic Edison bulbs dangling from the ceiling. Once seated, I could see that the menu was far from overwhelming. With only a handful of options for tacos, or enchiladas and the like, I haphazardly chose the fish taco and I never looked back. While waiting for our food, I noticed the two sauce bottles; one was unbranded and the other was the popular Tapatio hot sauce. Tapatio hot sauce reigns from California and was made by its founders from Guadelajara, a perfect accompaniment for the California Fish Taco. When the food arrived, I eagerly grabbed my taco from its small basket with all the toppings generously overflowing out of the taco shells. My mouth was watering simply looking at the large portion of crispy deep fried catfish with: house made cabbage slaw made daily, in house pickled onions, and amply drizzled with a secret creamy and spicy sauce drizzled on top. The second I had my first bite, the spectrum of flavors burst in my mouth; from the crunch of the texture of the breaded crust, to the moist, dense, and slightly flaky fish meat. All of these textures were combined with the flavors of the spicy sauce, with its light kick, and the sourness of the pickles and slaw, I quickly devoured the whole thing. It was heavy enough to satiate me, but light enough to keep me from having a food coma. The perfect texture, it was light and refreshing yet filling and meaty enough to satisfy even the largest appetites. Paired with a cold classic lime margarita, the California Catfish Taco was not just a meal, but an experience in itself. Although the fish taco was not a typical winter dish meant to warm you up, it can easily be a summer time staple instead. Even with the freezing cold snow outside, the California Catfish Taco brought the taste and refreshment of California to my plate.
Now that we’re nearing the end of summer and heading into colder weather, now would be the best time to grab a drink and have some light and refreshing fish tacos on Cantina Loco’s beautiful patio. An experience unparalleled with any of the tacos I had ever had in Buffalo, I never hesitate to reminisce and encourage my friends to try the California Catfish tacos of Cantina Loco, especially at this time of year.

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