“More than just food” is the slogan for Catrinas, a new restaurant in Edwardsville that centers on Mexican cuisine.
The menu tells the story of “La Calavera Catrina,” a skeleton wearing a fancy hat, first depicted in the early 1900s to reflect the merging of Mexican and European cultures.
“She is the figure who represents the Day of the Dead in Mexico,” said Megan Becerril, 23, of Edwardsville, who owns the restaurant with her husband Erik. “And Day of the Dead is a day when family and friends get together and make their deceased loved ones their favorite home-cooked foods and share memories.”
The restaurant’s decor also is symbolic. The Becerrils avoided stereotypical Mexican knickknacks, sombreros and bright colors. They went instead with earth tones, contemporary furnishings and mirrors with distressed frames.
The horseshoe-shaped bar, which seats 30 people, is made of repurposed wood and is illuminated by blue LED lighting.
“We don’t really want to put ourselves in the Mexican genre, mainly because everything here comes with a twist,” Megan said. “We have tacos and enchiladas, but we also have a Cuban torta and cheeseburgers. Our menu includes a wide range of things. We like to call ourselves Latin cuisine.”
We have tacos and enchiladas, but we also have a Cuban torta and cheeseburgers. Our menu includes a wide range of things. We like to call ourselves Latin cuisine.
Megan Becerril on Catrinas’ menu
Erik’s sister, Ana Becerril, 36, runs the kitchen. She immigrated from Mexico 13 years ago, followed by Erik and other family members.
Ana seasons her own black beans and chorizo sausage and makes her own corn tortillas and Mexican pastries. If she uses cheese, it’s queso fresco, a fresh Mexican cheese similar to goat or feta.
“My mother and my grandmother teach me how to cook,” Ana said with a strong accent. “We never been in the restaurant business, but my grandmother was in charge of big celebrations in the town.”
One of her grandmother’s taco recipes, El Cochinita, has become a customer favorite. A black-bean spread is topped with slow-roasted achiote marinated pork and habanero onion slaw.
In some cases, Ana starts with family recipes but adapts them to American tastes and customs. That may mean thickening the broth in soups or changing presentation a bit.
“At home, we just put everything in a bowl, including the meat, and we’d just tear it off the bone to make tacos,” she said. “Here, people don’t like to see the bone.”
Catrinas entrees range from Bistecitos Criollos, steak smothered in Mexican steak sauce with a poached egg and mashed papas or rice; to Catrina’s Cod, grilled cod marinated in black bean sauce, topped with rice, guacamole and crispy tortilla strips.
Also on the menu are soups, salads and appetizers such as Sweet Corn Griddle Cake and Octopus Salad. Desserts include Churros, a Mexican pastry. Ana makes the dough from scratch, cooks it in a ball and tosses it in cinnamon sugar.
“It comes with a choice of Mexican caramel or chocolate sauce, and those are homemade, too,” Megan said.
On a recent afternoon, customers included Amy Meyer and her daughter, Kat Earnest. The family had picked up tacos for carryout the night before and liked them so much, they decided to come back for lunch.
Kat, 15, described the food as lighter than what is served at many area Mexican restaurants and similar to what she had eaten out West.
“It was pretty fantastic,” said Amy, 44, of Edwardsville, who serves as Madison County recorder. “We’ll definitely be back. I think this is going to be one of our new favorite places.”
Megan met Erik and Ana when all three worked at Wang Gang Asian Eats in Edwardsville. Ana had always wanted to own a restaurant, so after Megan and Erik got married, they helped her make it happen.
The Becerrils hired local artist Demi Hillmer to paint a giant sugar skull on the back wall of Catrinas, another Day of the Dead tradition. Except this skeleton is holding a fruity cocktail.
“(Demi) worked from October until the first week of January, so she really took her time,” Megan said. “She hand-drew everything and mixed all the colors herself.”
The restaurant opened Jan. 18. Erik helps Ana in the kitchen. Megan takes care of business while also working part-time as a nurse at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.
Dustin Ross, 34, has become a regular, eating at Catrinas about once a week. The newspaper deliveryman lives nearby.
It’s authentic. Anyone who knows Mexican food ... It’s the real deal. And they have one of the better burgers in town (Bacon Burger with chihuahua cheese, pineapple, jalapenos and bacon). It’s like a California burger. And the tortillas are made fresh.
Dustin Ross on Catrinas’ food
“It’s authentic,” he said. “Anyone who knows Mexican food ... It’s the real deal. And they have one of the better burgers in town (Bacon Burger with chihuahua cheese, pineapple, jalapenos and bacon). It’s like a California burger. And the tortillas are made fresh.”
Catrinas has a full bar, including 11 margarita flavors, as well as specialty fruit drinks, Mexican coffee and bottled Mexican soda.
On Thursday, which is Cinco de Mayo, the restaurant will offer $1 tacos, $1 can or bottle beer, $10 pitchers of classic margaritas and $3 tamarind-flavored Mexican candy margaritas with spicy chili pepper on the rim.
The Mother’s Day special will be a thick-cut steak, chorizo potatoes, arugula strawberry salad with goat cheese, and dessert for $10.
At a glance
- What: Catrinas
- Where: 1027 Century Drive in Edwardsville’s University Pointe II
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays
- Seating: 100
- Carryouts: Yes
- Handicap-accessible: Yes
- Information: Call 618-692-5522 or visit the Facebook page
On the menu
- Sweet Corn Griddle Cakes — Fluffy, sweet tamale cakes topped with pico de gallo, salsa verde and sour cream, $7
- Octopus Salad — Octopus with avocado, pico de gallo, garbanzo beans, cilantro and lime, served with housemade chips topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, $9
- Bistecitos Criollos — Eight-ounce steak cooked to order, smothered in Mexican steak sauce with a poached egg, served with choice of mashed papas or house rice, $15
- Poblano Taco — Poblano pepper and freshly shucked corn and onion in melted queso on a spread of black beans with housemade corn tortilla, $3
- Carnita Taco — Slow-roasted shredded pork on a spread of avocado topped with queso fresco, baby arugula and salsa roja, $4
- Catrina’s Cod — Grilled cod marinated in a savory black bean sauce topped with house rice and guacamole and crispy tortilla strips, $13