Saturday, May 18, 2024

Review: Banko Cantina

It’s a very hip vibe at Banko Cantina (114 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, 561/355-1399), the newest player in downtown West Palm Beach, and one that is bound to have loyal fans from week one. It opened this week, and with a Friday the 13th, it’s bound to be good luck for Sam Sanchez, co-owner of the three-story northern Mexican eatery.

“I wanted to bring something (to the restaurant) that was personal to me,” says Sanchez, who was born in Chicago, but grew up in northern Mexico. This restaurateur’s goals: To explain the history of the food of the region through the menu, and explain tequila and its history. “People really don’t usually know how to drink tequila,” he says.

Banko Cantina is named for the historic 1921 bank building it occupies, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It took a while longer to build and design because of the historic designation, but “it was all worth it,” says Sanchez. The first floor is cavernous, as one would expect from a former banking office, and it seats about 130. The wood that was there and removed for construction was reclaimed and used for the wood on the walls, for the bar and the tabletops everywhere. The second floor has cozy couch arrangements, and it will be used primarily for private parties. The rooftop bar offers a sunset view and has a separate bar menu.

But the eye-catching art from Chicago artist David Bozic is what strikes you on entering, and his paintings are everywhere. The beautiful metal chandeliers, the embroidered black-and-white fabric seats, the wrought-iron tabletop hooks for the skewers of mesquite-grilled food and the lively Mexican music are all just preludes to the food and drinks.

Which brings us back to the colorful, flavorful northern Mexican cuisine that includes guacamole ($11, pictured above), crispy chips and addictive corn tortillas made in house. The guac is delicious and simple, with salt and a bit of serrano pepper that makes it start out smoothly, and then you get a kick of slight spice. We also tried the skewers of shrimp and chicken ($12) with bacon and more peppers, the lobster tacos ($16) and paella ($24; both pictured). It’s all nicely plated, and tastes as good as it looks.

The drinks match the food in good looks and even better taste. We tried the signature passion fruit sangria ($11.50), with a tequila shot floating in a jalapeno pepper boat and chili salt on the rim. It was a favorite all around, invented by the corporate mixologist, Enrique Cobos, who explained he put it together for the TV show, “Master Chef.” The Adelita ($11.50)—also a hit, is Herradura Resposado tequila, lime juice and Cointreau, with a salt and chili pepper rim, and a mezcal float. Last, but not least, was El Sueno ($10.50). Cobos explained the idea had come to him in a dream, so he named the drink, The Dream in Spanish. It’s made with pineapple-infused vodka, coconut cream, coconut water, lime juice and a toasted coconut rim.

Summing it up: Que chido! (very cool!)

Lynn Kalber
Lynn Kalber
Lynn Kalber was raised in Boca Raton and has always worked in Palm Beach and Broward counties. She is a career journalist, with 26 years at The Palm Beach Post alone, where she wrote feature and food articles, edited the food section and wrote about wine as part of the Swirl Girls.

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