• Mike Sula
  • Quesadilla burger, Cantina Pasadita

For a time it seemed that there was no stopping the inexorable advance of Empire La Pasadita. For decades, the taco triangle just south of the Division/Ashland intersection was a safe haven for legions of late-night drunks in need of hangover intervention. Frankly, I think the collective esteem people hold for La Pasadita carne asada tacos is heavily tinted by the persuasiveness of alcohol. And I say this as someone who’s been saved by those tacos on numerous occasions over the last 18 years. But they were always simple and dependable, and I was more than happy to see the company expand under the Taqueria LP Express banner to North Mayfair and Irving Park, if only to have more outlets for the Espinoza family’s fantastic roasted jalapeño salsa negra.*

It was alarming and a bit sad when the original La Pasadita on the east side of Ashland closed in early January. But it seems that was only a temporary contraction in advance of a surprising development in early June, almost right across the street from TLPE in Irving Park. The Espinoza family took over the space that once housed the Balkan-esque D’Vine, rechristening it Cantina Pasadita and installing a more formal approach than anything seen from them before. Inside it’s all chrome and pleather booths, with a frenetic cumbia soundtrack and a full bar with giant, cheap, but watery margaritas that are just boozy enough to inspire a second round.

The tacos and burritos are still there, along with steak and shrimp entrees, salads, and couple of goofy house specials like a big $40 mixed-meat grill and a whole pineapple stuffed with shrimp. And then there are the burgers. That seems like it’s going too far, no? But there they are, a half dozen mostly Mexican-themed burgers, including a black-bean burger and a jalapeño-habanero-chipotle-pepper jack job titled, appropriately enough, “The Fuego.”

I usually feel duty bound to order the most obnoxious thing on the menu on a first visit and I was leaning toward the shrimp-stuffed pineapple until I spied the quesadilla burger, a thick patty sandwiched by two chihuahua cheese-stuffed quesadillas, lettuce, onion, guacamole, and sour cream. My particular burger was nicely charred but overcooked (a problem I also encountered with the carne asada tacos and the shrimp, chicken, and steak fajitas), in direct opposition to the limp, undercooked fries. It wasn’t bound by quesadillas either, but rather two flour tortillas topped with cheese. The burger was dry, but still juicy enough to completely degrade those tortillas after a few bites. A noble experiment, but a sloppy, failed one.

I could look past the bad burger, fries, fajitas, tacos, and drinks and just be happy for the continued growth of the empire. But Cantina Pasadita falls short in one unforgivable respect: there’s no salsa negra.

Cantina Pasadita, 2958 W. Irving ParkN. Sacramento, 773-516-4041, cantinapasadita.com

*The family also owns a Taco Burrito Express in Silver Springs, Texas.