April 6, 2024
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Seattle embraces the magmatic energy of Tulum in its new hot spot

A decade ago, restaurateur Bernie Garcia traveled to Tulum, Mexico, on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula. On that trip, he explored the Tulum Mayan Ruins, dipped his toes in the turquoise Caribbean, and got to know the area through its food.

Although he travels about once a month to various locales, that first trip to Tulum left such an impression, it inspired his newest restaurant opening. Welcome to Cantina Monarca in Bellevue’s Lincoln Square, an elevated dining and upscale cocktail lounge for the 21+ crowd that opened at the end of December and isn’t like anything else around, he says. (Well, maybe Tulum?)

“I traveled to Tulum for the first time 10 years ago and fell in love with it. Tulum has a magical and Zenlike feel. The vibe is directly influenced by Tulum and its boho-chic essence. My vision was to bring that same feel to my home city of Bellevue,” Garcia said.

Mission accomplished as soon as you walk through the door. More than 10,000 sticks and vines were imported from the Mayan jungle and hand-placed into the design. This 3,000-square-foot passion project was almost two years in the making, and it was a labor of love.

Seattle embraces the magmatic energy of Tulum in its new hot spot
Bernie Garcia.

“We wanted to create a high-end Mexican cantina concept that is unlike any other in the country. We collaborated with the world-renowned hospitality architect Gulla Jonsdottir to create an awe-inspiring design that would complement our high-quality and delicious food and beverage program,” Garcia said. Jonsdottir’s noteworthy projects include Le Grand Restaurant in Paris, the renovation of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and more.

Seattle embraces the magmatic energy of Tulum in its new hot spot

Garcia was born with the restaurant business in his blood. His father opened the still-popular Moctezuma Mexican Restaurants that can be found in various locations around Puget Sound. Those five family favorites are now owned and operated by Garcia since his parents retired.

Seattle embraces the magmatic energy of Tulum in its new hot spot

The 39-year-old Bellevue father also launched Grandeza Spirits, a premium orange liqueur that you can find across the country, distributed by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, one of the largest distributors in the country. As if that weren’t enough on his plate (or shall we say glass?), he’s developing an ultra-luxury tequila brand with a partner soon.

Seattle embraces the magmatic energy of Tulum in its new hot spot

When you visit Cantina Monarca, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Mexico when you peruse the menu. The tortillas are handmade, the fresh cocktails are agave-based, and the Wagyu ribeye “is second to none,” Garcia said.

Seattle embraces the magmatic energy of Tulum in its new hot spot

Also try the halibut ceviche, slow-braised duck carnitas for two, and truffle potato taquitos, and don’t skip the Sandia salad, a compressed watermelon and honeydew salad on spicy arugula dressed in a sexy pomegranate vinaigrette. The margarita flights are already a winner, Garcia added. Most of the menu is gluten-free, and there are several vegan options. And chances are, your fave tequila is on the menu — there are at least 100 to choose from.

Seattle embraces the magmatic energy of Tulum in its new hot spot

The culinary team is led by Michael Alvarez, who was previously an executive chef at a Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant in Chicago. Garcia is excited to bring new flavors to the city he calls home. “The downtown Bellevue corridor is one of the premier shopping and dining destinations in the state. I also live in the area, and I always felt that an upscale Mexican restaurant concept was missing,” Garcia said.

He hopes that Cantina Monarca will be widely regarded as “a world-class Mexican dining experience and a quality place where the local Bellevue community comes to connect with friends and family to create lasting memories.”

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