Mex 1 Coastal Cantina a highway to the flavors of Baja

Deidre Schipani – Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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Brad Nettles/Staff
Mex 1 Coastal Cantina is in the former Jack's Cosmic Dog space on St. Andrews Boulevard in West Ashley.

Mex 1 Coastal Cantina

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Mex 1 Coastal Cantina

Cuisine: Coastal Mexican/American

Category: Neighborhood Favorite

Location: 817 St. Andrews Blvd., West Ashley

Phone: 751-4001

Hours: Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (kitchen), 11 a.m.-midnight (bar)

Food: 3

Atmosphere: 3 1/2

Service: 3

Price: $

Costs: Appetizers $5.50-$9.75, salads $6.75-$9.75, quesadillas $6.50-$9.50, tacos $2.75-$3.50, tortas $7.50-$9.50, Baja bowls $6.50-$9.50, kids menu $2-$2.50, sides $2.50, desserts $2.50

Bar: Full-service bar, specialty cocktail menu, infused tequilas, vodkas, floaters

Vegetarian Options: Yes

Wheelchair Accessible: Yes

Parking: Lot

Other: Entertainment, daily specials, special events, Facebook, patio, specials

In 2012, Jack Hurley jettisoned his Jack's Cosmic Dogs in Avondale. His roadside hot dog stand did not cut the mustard in West Ashley.

His other two Cosmic Dogs are open in Mount Pleasant and on James Island, but Hurley is trying out a new concept in the space on St. Andrews Boulevard.

Hurley, with partner Roddy Smith, Dave Lorenz and bar manager/son Morgan Hurley, repurposed the West Ashley casual eatery into Mex 1 Coastal Cantina. Its name comes from the highway that connects Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

The interior is a kitschy match-up of Baja meets longboard. Repurposed boat wood painted the coastal colors of aquamarine, turquoise and sea glass green are wrapped around the spacious bar. Weathered surf boards frame one side of the cantina, bringing new meaning to the word “wallboard.” Galvanized metal is used to create a privacy barrier between the dining room and bathrooms that have cleverly been named every international word you can think of for toilet.

Humor and creativity show their hands throughout the restaurant. Global hot sauces are self-serve and are placed on a shelf that is adjacent to the restaurant's fire extinguisher. The flat-screen TV runs a closed-loop film of surfer Craig Anderson's swell searches: 24/7 tube time.

A former wire spool has been reclaimed as a dining table, and some vintage-style “Toledo drafting chairs” are gathered around the table, adding notes of nostalgia and an industrial revolution of another kind. Modern brushed aluminum chairs lend a contemporary accent to the space, and a slat-board ceiling suspended above the bar is strung with white party lights, keeping an attitude of fun front and center, as well as above.

The servers are well-informed about the menu, and the staff is quick to dispense chips and salsa to every table. Beverage service is efficient, and the signature cocktails are worthy of your calories. Try the Hydrator ($7) with its use of coconut water to balance your H2O, the Jalapeno Margarita ($7) to jump-start your taste buds or the Mex1can Ashtray described as “Baja in a can” ($3) for the daredevil in you. Eager-to-please servers pay attention to all the tables, and friendly mangers stop by to check in on your experience.

Diners can seek out the bar, high tops, banquettes or a community table to hoist their favored beverage and toast this Baja-inspired Mex cantina that quickly has found a home with West Ashley residents and beyond.

The kitchen makes all their sauces, rubs, relishes, dressings and vinaigrettes. Their version of “Bangin' ” sauce lends credible heat to a lightly fried shrimp taco ($3.50), and their sweet heat sauce is just that, a balanced merger of sweetness and fire.

We began with the triple dipper with smoked chipotle salsa, not incendiary, but salsa with a kick; freshly made guacamole that is not pabulum but rough-cut chunks of avocado that could use more lime and salt; and creamy queso that we used to slather on our tacos.

The taco menu is well-composed, and the shroomer ($2.75), the carnitas ($2.75) and the bangin' shrimp ($3.50) were all ordered and enjoyed.

Mex 1 Cantina's signature dish is its “Baja Bowls.” The base price is $6.50, and you can add steak, carnitas, chicken, shrimp, mushrooms or mahi-mahi for an additional charge. The bowl is brown rice, black beans, Monterey Jack cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole, tortilla strips, queso fresco and green onions — a meal in its own right.

We topped ours with mahi ($9.50), and the fish was fresh, firm and seasoned with the Mex 1 rub. This was a filling and delicious dish marred only by temperature. By the time the toppings were strewn over the beans and rice, everything took on a chill.

Look to the tortas category on the menu if you prefer to chow down on a sandwich ($7.50-$9.50). Quesadillas are plump with fillings and are served with sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo.

Kudos for having their kids menu hang ten with the theme and the same for their desserts. Brownies are jazzed with chile's heat, and the three milks of “tres leches” are used to make the bread pudding.

It is said that “it is an ill wind that blows no good.” For Hurley and his partners, the demise of a Jack's Cosmic Dogs birthed a Mexican cantina that brings a coastal, casual freestyle of the Baja Peninsula to West Ashley and a new wave of success to these accomplished restaurateurs.