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by Mel Fenson

The El Encanto Restaurant and Cantina in Cave Creek, Arizona - 35 miles north of Phoenix - whisks diners away to a romantic Old World Mission style Bougainvilla- covered garden setting, next to a picturesque pond that’s alive with ducks, turtles, swans, owls, and blue heron. Throughout the restaurant, the decor is enhanced with the vibrant colors of Mexico, illustrated tile scenes and wrought iron accents - designed by local artists. Diners sit under a covered patio right next to the water as the efficient wait staff brings a variety of Mexican dishes from regions all over Mexico.

The indoor/outdoor Cantina offers more than 40 different tequilas and a wine selection from Mexico, Spain, South America, California and Oregon. The Cantina Tapas Menu offers a selection of smaller items.

Among the restaurant's specialties are Guacamole with fresh avocados, tomatoes, peppers, onions and fresh herbs; Cocktail de Camarones - with shrimp, avocado, cucumbers and spices; Green Chile Corn Tamales and Red Beef Tamales; Sopa Albondigas - Mexican meatballs in a savory beef broth with fresh vegetables; Enchiladas de Queso - corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, topped with red or green chile sauces and served with beans and rice; Enchiladas de Pollo con Mole - chicken enchiladas topped with mole sauce; Camarones de Tequila con Limon - shrimp, marinated in fresh garlic, cilantro, olive oil, citrus juices and Sauza Gold Tequila, then grilled; Plato de Carnitas - slow roasted pork, served with Tomatillo Chipotle sauce, cabbage, cilantro, black beans and fresh corn tortillas; Chile Relleno con Pollo; and Fajitas - marinated strips of chicken, beef or vegetables, mesquite grilled with fresh peppers and onions, served with warm tortillas, guacamole, beans and Pico de Gallo salsa.

El Encanto was established in 1989 by Bill Nelson, who brought Chef Hernandez - whom he’d known for twenty years - from Mazatlan, Mexico to put together the Mexican menu and manage food operations.

The creative concept for El Encanto came from Bill’s appreciation of old Mexican architecture. He made many trips across the border, to bring back ideas and materials to incorporate into the look of his restaurant.

In 2003, Bill was joined by his daughter Christine, a lawyer from Washington, who came back to Arizona to help run the business. Christine and Chef Hernandez expanded the menu to add more fresh seafood and several of Chef Hernandez’s specialties from Mexico.

The restaurant serves Monday to Sunday from 11am to 10 pm. Sunday Brunch starts at 9:00 am.

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