Have you ever walked into a place and thought, if I could redecorate my house, this is where I’d draw inspiration? That’s how I felt when I entered Antojitos, the newest restaurant to open as part of the largest expansion in Universal Orlando CityWalk history.
Walk up to the Spanish facade with its working bell from the 1800s and try not to squint at the eye-popping colors that pull you inside. Stroll through the al fresco courtyard and step into the main floor of the restaurant, where a lounge area to the right is bathed in a swathe of turquoise with low and funky mustard chairs underneath. It’s all very mid-century modern, which is befitting as that is the same trendy theme Universal chose for its Cabana Bay Resort set to open this spring.
A center bar is stocked with adorable bartenders wearing white guayabera shirts, authentic Mexican sodas and beers, and a slew of tequilas. Towards the far right in the back of the restaurant you’ll see an open kitchen where you can pull up a stool at the stainless steel counter and watch as dishes are prepared fresh from scratch.
In the opposite corner a huge stage is home to a mariachi band that moves and croons its way throughout the two-story restaurant, serenading you with a surprising and curious mix of traditional Mexican mariachis and the latest radio hits. “It’s like a moving party,” says Modesto Alcala, VP of operations at Universal Citywalk. His team took multiple trips to Mexico before coming up with the concept and execution for Antojitos. “We wanted to provide an authentic experience, and the only way to do that was to go see it ourselves.” Pictures from Alcala’s travels grace the walls of the restaurant and provide a glimpse of everyday life in Mexico City.
But don’t let the nod to tradition fool you. Neon lights that scream “Fiesta” and black and white walls that mimic graffiti let you know this is not a place for a quiet, serious meal. This place is made for fun.
Downstairs the menu follows the “antojitos” theme, which means cravings or small, casual meals in Spanish. Delicious tacos made of chili-braised pork or crunchy shrimp topped with grilled pineapple and queso blanco are perfect for sharing. If your party is celebrating, ask for one of the center tables ensconced in steel cables that manage to give off a comfy-yet-cagey vibe. Don’t blame the management if someone decides to dance on the table.
Up the floating stairs that mix dark wood with metal and concrete, a slightly more formal dining experience awaits. You can sit in the main room and peer at the stage below or at the artists painting Mexican masks you’re free to take home, or outside overlooking the VW bus-turned-bar selling margaritas. Order the coffee-rubbed rib-eye steak and if you’re like me, you’ll find it’s perfectly cooked medium well alongside fire-roasted sweet bell peppers. A “Handsome George” agave cocktail named after ol’ Clooney is the perfect drink to sip when the waiter swings by to prep you a bowl of fresh guacamole table-side.
Whatever you do, do not leave without tasting dessert. My fave was the banana-and-chocolate bread pudding shaped into a tiny loaf with warm banana slices on top, but it’s not like I’d turn away the motel caramel cake if it found its way to me. Kids will love the doughey, sugary churros with mango salsa for dipping.
Reservations are not required but recommended. Anotjitos opens at 5 p.m. daily. Entrees fall below $24 upstairs and $20 downstairs. For more details, click HERE.