At Steve’s Cantina on Syracuse’s Tipperary Hill, you can get a cold 10-ounce beer for a buck and a quarter. At night, the crowds come for a comfy spot to watch the game. But Thursdays and Fridays, the place serves some of the best Mexican food around. From an Irish bar.
Owner Mike Wojenski, calls it a Mexican restaurant in an Irish pub owned by a Polish guy.
The man behind that great food is Dave Walker, a professional guitar player and singer who likes to cook. He plays with Joe Whiting and other bands throughout Central New York. He used to have a restaurant in the Tri-County Mall near his home in Baldwinsville.
But that shopping center was dying. About 15 years ago, he started looking for a new kitchen. That’s when a friend suggested he check out Steve’s because it had a kitchen in the back and plenty of seating. When Dave met Mike, the two hit off immediately.
“He said, ‘Don’t tell me how to make drinks, and I won’t tell you how to make food,” Dave said. “It’s just perfect here. I’ve made so many friends here. They come here for some good food and strong drinks. They leave here very happy.”
Waitress Cathy Parker started working for Dave when he opened in 2004. She’s been there ever since. “I love working for him. He makes wonderful food, and the people love it,” she said. “And I love the people.”
A group of five folks in their 20s sat at the window table in the back room. They knew Cathy and Dave by name and Cathy and Dave know them. That and the food are what keeps them as regular customers, said Mariah Hampton.
“You wouldn’t expect good Tex-Mex food here, but it blew my mind. Blew. My. Mind,” Mariah said while sipping a giant margarita.
“Aside from the food, Cathy and Dave treat us like family,” said her friend Kerry Boyle. “Cathy knows what we’re going to order ahead of time. And Dave’s like my dad; he makes sure we’re well fed.”
Casa Especial ($10): The Casa Especial (‘house special’) is a smothered burrito in a flour tortilla filled with cheese and choice of beans, chicken or pork. Dave tops it with chile verde, melted cheese, tomatoes and shredded lettuce and adds sides of spiced-up buttery corn, yellow rice and beans.
Be sure to get tortilla chips and Dave’s homemade salsa when you sit down. That’s a highlight, and you’ll likely go through a few bowls of the salsa.
The American comfort food ($10): On Wednesdays, Dave serves one American dish or what he considers comfort food. His meatloaf is among the most popular items.
Margarita ($5): Katie Dunford works the bar when Dave is cooking. She’s the niece of Steve’s owner Mike Wojenski. She comes up with a specialty drink for each shift, depending on Dave’s food special. But the margarita is the most popular on Thursdays and Fridays. She makes them from Mike’s recipe, and she serves them them with a heavy pour in a pint glass rimmed with salt. The Bloody Mary at Steve’s ($5) is also popular.
The restaurant: Steve’s, 401 Milton Ave., Syracuse, 315-468-3380.
Credit cards? No. But an ATM is available in the bar.
Access to disabled? No
Inside seating: Yes. Plenty of tables in all three rooms.
Parking: There’s a parking lot for 8 cars out front and plenty of on-street parking.
Hours: Bar is open 7 days a week, morning until late night. Restaurant is Wednesday-Friday, 5 to 9 p.m.