Blanco Cantina
By Bob Keelaghan

Tex-Mex Food the Right Way

If Tex-Mex cooking, complemented by tequila and cervezas make your mouth water, Blanco on the 17th Avenue Southwest shopping and dining strip is the place to visit. Inspired by the Tex-Mex food from cities in Texas, Southern California and Western Mexico, co-owner Cliff Harvey and his partners wanted to translate the essence of their cuisine-travel experiences to Calgary. The owners of Añejo Restaurant, they had dreamed of opening a laid-back, "younger brother" of the successful contemporary Mexican restaurant.

“Our Mexico is more like Sayulita, Guadalajara or Tlaquepaque, not resort Mexico,” says Cliff. “We wanted our food to reflect that.  We do street-style tacos – sourcing locally made tortilla shells and chips, and preparing all the meats and marinades in house.” Blanco’s tacos are indeed like those found in Mexico. Soft corn tortillas, they're served with pork, chicken or beef. And, the spacious, rustic cantina is appropriately decked out with wood-plank walls, neon signs and sugar skulls.

The menu’s “big ass burritos” are one-pound behemoths modelled after the southern Mexican-American variety. The quesadillas and fajitas, as well, follow authentic formulas rather than popularized versions.

So determined were they to get it right, the Blanco chefs were put on reconnaissance duty in Texas and Mexico. “We sent our guys to Jalisco Mexico and Houston Texas to talk to the chefs, find out what they were doing, and get the authenticity of the place,” says Cliff.

On the establishment's outdoor patio, which overlooks the avenue, people sun themselves as they dig into big ass burritos and plates of housemade nachos con mucho gusto.

Our Mexico is more like Sayulita, Guadalajara or Tlaquepaque, not resort Mexico. We wanted our food to reflect that. - Cliff Harvey, co-owner
Blanco is a southwestern-style cantina serving up Tex-Mex-inspired dishes.
Blanco's interior is modelled after southwestern cantinas. Photo by Michael Trudeau courtesy of Blanco

Cocktails en Espanol

Cliff is passionate about the subject of tequila, elaborating on which high-quality Mexican spirits are made with pure agave. Obviously, it’s a special interest, as Blanco stocks 75 tequilas and 25 rums, which are displayed prominently above the neon-adorned bar that dominates the room. “We went to the town of Tequila in Jalisco and spent some time in the agave fields at the distilleries, getting the feel,” says Cliff. “We cut plants out of the ground, the same as a winemaker would do.”

Spirits can be ordered by the ounce at Blanco, but they are also the backbone of its margarita-centric cocktail menu. There are a half-dozen flavours of tequila-fuelled margaritas served in the traditional, on-the-rocks style or as a slushy concoction. So much freshly squeezed fruit juice goes into the margaritas and daquiris, the eatery employs a full-time prepper who squeezes watermelons, lemons and pineapples all day.

For those who prefer beer, Blanco serves its own honey lager and pale ale on tap (brewed by Granville Island Brewery) to augment its selection of Mexican bottled beers.

Blanco serves hand-made soft corn tortillas with its Tex-Mex tacos.
Blanco makes tacos in the traditional Mexican way. Photo by Michael Trudeau courtesy of Blanco

From Brunch to Lunch to Buenos Noches

Blanco opens for lunch on weekdays at 11 am and stays open till midnight. Open even later on weekends, it is another of Calgary’s increasing variety of restaurants serving late-night eats. For bleary-eyed morning people, the restaurant also serves hangover brunch on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. It, too, features a Mexican twist that includes chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, spicy eggs benny and, yes, big ass breakfast burritos.

Cliff sums up the restaurant's efforts to get its Mexican essence just right. "We try and put on a good party every time," he says.

Blanco is a southwestern style cantina serving Tex-Mex food complemented by margaritas, beer and an extensive tequila selection.
Blanca's spacious outdoor patio overlooks busy 17th Avenue Southwest. Photo by Michael Trudeau courtesy of Blanco
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