From the moment you walk through the slightly hard-to-open front doors of Cabo Grill on the Pensacola Beach boardwalk, you know you’re not going to get the typical Mexican restaurant dining experience.
There are no multi-colored sarapes on the walls, no piÃ?Â±atas hanging over the bar, no posters of beer-sipping parrots in sombreros. In fact, you’ll find none of the often-overused elements of south-of-the-border dÃ?Â©cor. Instead, the atmosphere is subdued and soothing, a palette of earth tones with textured bronze tables, driftwood sconce fixtures and gently bubbling flat-glass waterfalls at the bar.
If the look is unconventional, Cabo Grill has a menu to match. Sure you can still order enchiladas, fajitas and tacos, and you still get chips and salsa to start the meal. But there are also seared sea scallops served with red onion escabeche (a spicy Spanish marinade) and pineapple-serrano salsa. There’s also the seafood margarita (shrimp, scallops and grouper in a lime, avocado, tomato and cilantro sauce), Baja-style seafood tacos (scallops, shrimp or catch-of-the-day), adobo-rubbed pork tenderloin and grilled salmon drizzled with burnt orange caramel sauce and topped with prickly pear salsa.
We started our meal with the chips – light and crispy – served with two types of salsa: a mild roja and a smoky chipotle, which provided a nice, lingering heat. Then it was on to the tacos al carbon with sirloin steak for my husband, chopped shrimp quesaditas for myself and a cheese quesadita for our three-and-a-half-year-old.
Juicy and flavorful, the tacos came with a side of Corn San Lucas, sweet corn in a rich, buttery Monterey Jack cheese sauce. The chopped shrimp quesaditas were tasty, if a bit light on shrimp. However, they were served with a wonderful pineapple-serrano salsa, which complemented the dish with a complex flavor combination at once sweet and sour, hot and citrusy. The kids’ cheese quesadita was, well, a basic, small cheese quesadilla, which suited our son just fine.
Of course, what’s a Mexican meal without a margarita? Cabo Grill offers an ample variety, with your choice of tequilas: Cabo Wabo, Patron, Don Julio, Oro Azul, Jose Cuervo, Milagro, El Tesoro, Casa Noble, Partida, Herradura, Corralejo, Corzo, Margaritaville, 1800, Sauza Hornitos, El Diamonte, Ciello and Gran Amigo. The top-of-the-line offering is the $75 Margarita Multimillionario, made with Don Julio Real and 150-year-old Grand Marnier. (No, sad to say, we didn’t get to sample this one.)
If you order one of the small plate meals, you might even have room for dessert, which includes chocolate nachos, banana bread, dulce de leche and Sweet Heat, a vanilla bean gelato topped with strawberries, pineapple-serrano salsa and burnt orange caramel sauce.
All through the meal, you also get to enjoy the view: Cabo Grill sits in the center of the Pensacola Beach boardwalk (now coming back to life after sustaining extensive damage in 2004’s Hurricane Ivan) overlooking the sparkling waters of Santa Rosa Sound. That’s a treat in itself, even if you don’t have room for dessert.
Cabo Grill is located in Suite 5 at 400 Quietwater Beach Road on Pensacola Beach.