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New Whitefish eatery taps into authentic Mexican cuisine, tequila

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | July 5, 2020 9:27 AM

The former site of McGarry’s Roadhouse on Wisconsin Avenue in Whitefish has been completely transformed for the opening of Jalisco Cantina, a new Mexican restaurant with an overflowing tequila vault. For owner David Pike, that’s all part of the experience.

“Whenever you can have an experience, people will come,” Pike said. He and his team have put acute attention into every aspect of the restaurant, from the ingredients to the ironwork. The top priority for Pike is creating an all-around authentic Mexican experience in Whitefish.

The restaurant will feature familiar Mexican fare such as tacos and burritos—all with high-quality ingredients, like cilantro grown on-site and fresh seafood. Pike and Chef Paul Mason are particularly proud that all of their tortillas are house-made at the restaurant.

Pike currently operates a Jalisco Cantina location in his hometown of San Diego, California, and Mason said regulars there have raved about the restaurant’s pozole, or pork stew. They plan to bring over some of the favorites from the California kitchen, as well as expand their offerings at the larger new Montana location.

Pike said his focus for Jalisco Cantina is on “not being another Mexican restaurant.”

And one of the restaurant’s most distinguishing features is its bevy of beverage options. The restaurant boasts about 90 types of tequila and mezcal in its perfectly temperature-controlled vault—set precisely at 57 degrees to maximize the taste and keep drinks from getting watered down by ice. They hope to eventually expand to somewhere around 120 different tequila options. The vault also includes an illustrious collection of wines from Mexico, Spain, Portugal and other Latin influences.

“I want people to come here and savor more sipping tequilas,” Pike said. He laughingly pointed out the restaurant’s top-shelf collection is a far cry from “the bottle with a worm in it.”

Sipping the unique flavors sourced from the agave-rich Jalisco region of Mexico is nothing short of a “beautiful experience,” according to Pike.

Even in San Diego, where Mexican flavors are a bit more prevalent than Whitefish, Pike said guests gush about Jalisco Cantina’s handcrafted margaritas.

Pike saw the restaurant as “the perfect opportunity to bring authentic Mexican food to Whitefish” after McGarry’s closed a few years ago. The San Diego restaurateur and longtime insurance executive said he “fell in love with Whitefish” when he visited the area for an insurance group conference years ago. He soon built a house here and made a plan to bring over some of the culture from his stomping grounds.

He said he hopes the unique—perhaps unfamiliar—Mexican fare will be “well-embraced” by the local community.

Luckily, Pike is working with a local expert on the cuisine scene in the Flathead Valley. Pike has partnered with Jeff Carl—who has helped out at Abruzzo Italian Kitchen, Latitude 48 Bistro and The Gunsight Saloon—to launch Jalisco Cantina.

Together, the pair almost completely rebuilt the restaurant, expanding the capacity to 170 people, moving the kitchen downstairs for a better customer experience and developing indoor-outdoor seating with enormous accordion doors and a Big Mountain-view patio. Other seating options at Jalisco Cantina also include outdoor fire pits and a private upstairs room that comfortably seats 16 for business meetings or small parties.

Carl said a private space like this is “one of the things the valley doesn’t have.”

Jalisco Cantina is located at 510 Wisconsin Ave in Whitefish. Call (406) 730-2663 for updated hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

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Mixed drinks sit on the bar at Jalisco Cantina in Whitefish. The new Mexican restaurant will offer an expansive selection of tequila. (Jeremy Weber photos/Daily Inter Lake)