A celebrated Mexican eatery in Somerville’s Union Square officially closed, but not without giving a heartfelt farewell.
Cantina La Mexicana, a restaurant that has been a staple in the neighborhood community, held its last day of service on Saturday. The reason for the closure was twofold: the business faced steep competition from other dining spots, and it did not successfully negotiate the extension of its lease, according to Karina Rendón, the daughter of owners Robert and Carolina Rendón.
Before bidding goodbye to their faithful patrons, Cantina held one last party on Sunday, pouring out margaritas and inviting Good Trouble Brass Band to perform music.
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“It was quite overwhelming,” Rendón said. “People were pouring in since early afternoon to say goodbye. They didn’t even want to eat. They just wanted to say goodbye, to talk to my dad about the wonderful memories that they had there. Once five o’clock hit, it just blew up.”
The Somerville restaurant had been open since 1995. The reason for the closure was in part due to the difficulty of keeping up with other Mexican restaurants in the area, Rendón said. While many of them are “aesthetically pleasing” and perform well on Instagram, Rendón said that her parents are “old school, and [believe that] as long as the food is good, that’s all that really should matter.”
But this was not the main reason for the closure, Rendón said. In the aftermath of the family’s unsuccessful negotiations to extend the lease, they were ultimately told to vacate the building, resulting in what she called the “forced retirement” of her parents, she added. Before receiving the news that they would have to leave, Rendón said that her parents were not thinking of closing Cantina.
“This was kind of a surprise,” she said. “Yes, competition was coming, but [we] were trying to figure out ways to evolve and get more people to come through the door.”
Both Rendón’s parents are immigrants. Her father emigrated from the Mexican city of Matamoros to the United States at the age of 10 years old, and her mother moved from the state of San Luis Potosí in Mexico to the United States at 16 years old. They both met in Texas. When they opened Cantina, they prided themselves on serving authentic food that wasn’t “refined or fancy,” but resembled home cooking, Rendón said. For years, dedicated patrons frequented Cantina, and many community members would hold parties, receptions, and graduations there.
Some of their most popular menu items are the tamales, which came filled with chicken, pork, or green beans and spinach, Rendón said. Customers also loved the tacos, particularly the pork al pastor, Baja fish, and steak. The enchiladas, one guest told Rendón’s mother, were similar to what they would find back home in Mexico.
Rendón said that what she will miss the most is the community.
“I feel like there was nowhere else in Somerville where you got that sense of community. There’s just so many nice people,” she said. “My dad did a really good job of connecting everyone. He would meet someone and ask about their life story [and] history. He would say, ‘I know a person who has a job for you.’ ‘I know a person who you should talk to.’”
Her parents will retire, she said, and move to Texas. “It’s a time for rest,” she said.
Tell us: Do you have a special memory of Cantina La Mexicana? Let us know what the restaurant meant to you and whether you will miss dining there. Share your favorite places to get cider doughnuts in New England via the survey below or e-mail us at [email protected]. Your response may appear in a future Boston.com article.
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