Joshua Binning modeled his restaurant after one he admired in Colorado. (Samantha Ryan photo)

Lucha Cantina: Fresh Mexican Fare with Colorado Influence

Its Rocky Mountain panache is just part of the spirit of this Rockford restaurant, which is quickly becoming a favorite for its fresh, unique menu. Discover how Mexican cuisine is just the beginning.

Joshua Binning modeled his restaurant after one he admired in Colorado. (Samantha Ryan photo)
Joshua Binning modeled his restaurant after one he admired in Colorado. (Samantha Ryan photo)

Lucha Cantina, 1641 N. Alpine Road, is a Mexican restaurant with a twist. It serves up fresh food at affordable prices, in a casual dining atmosphere. Lucha Cantina celebrated its second anniversary in August, with a new menu, a new look, and new ways to give back to the community.
It all began in 2001, when owner Joshua Binning met Chuck Holcomb at a restaurant manger’s conference hosted by a large chain restaurant they were both working for at the time. They became good friends and stayed in touch even after Holcomb left the company to start his own business. Holcomb opened Lucha Cantina in Colorado – in Breckenridge, Georgetown, Colorado Springs and, most recently, in Littleton.
After a few visits to the mountains, some food and margaritas, Binning asked Holcomb for his help in opening a restaurant with the same name, in Rockford.
“These are two very different environments, but good food is good food and works anywhere,” Binning says.
The men don’t share ownership of their businesses, but do share menus, ideas and inspiration.
About half of the menu items are the same at all locations; some adaptations were made for the Midwest market. For example, Buffalo burgers are a hot item in Colorado, but not here. On the Rockford menu, in the first year, maybe two sold, Binning says. But Wahoo Fish, Salmon Veracruz and Peanut Butter and Jelly Poppers are top sellers unique to the Rockford menu.
A new food menu is due out the first week of August. Among new items will be a variety of fajitas and empanadas.
The look of the restaurant is being updated, too. By the end of summer, there will be new tables and chairs, patio furniture and lighting. Some booth seating, and the full wall between the bar and dining room, will be converted to a half wall for better light. Some new colors accents will be added to the existing decor.
Most everything on the menu is made from scratch, using finer ingredients like grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and fresh produce. The salsas, dressings and sauces are made in-house every day. Gluten-free and vegan items are identified on the menu.
The strawberry margaritas are made with real fruit and all cocktails are made with fresh juices; specialty drinks are made with fresh produce purchased at the weekly farmers market at Edgebrook. You’ll find no sour mix, artificially flavored syrups, or other mixes at Lucha Cantina. In addition, the bar provides a rotating selection of craft beers, mainly from local breweries.
But that’s not all. There are burgers, steaks, chicken wings, soups and chili, salads and sweets. The only items not homemade are the tortillas, kid’s chicken tenders and sweet potato fries.
Appetizers include nachos loaded with fresh vegetables and cheese, with the option of adding a meat and/or salsa topping. Seven homemade salsas range from mild to extra spicy.
Taco favorites include the Wahoo Fish Taco, built with slaw, spinach, guacamole, Pepper Jack cheese and cilantro dill sauce. A pulled pork taco is topped with freshly diced onion, olive blend, spinach, sour cream and cheese.
Among the featured burritos is the Killer Kilo, described as “three pounds of awesomeness,” with pork, chicken, beef, rice and beans, spinach, cabbage, onion, sour cream and cheese. The Surf and Turf taco is made with Wahoo fish, shredded beef, rice, jack cheese, spinach, cabbage, onion, portabella mushroom, sour cream and a cilantro dill sauce.
The menu also features enchiladas, quesadillas, steaks, fish, chile rellenos, sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads, mac-n-cheese, a kids’ menu, a $9 lunch menu, many fresh salsas and sweets.
Shane Johnson, manager at Lucha Cantina, says the business is about great food, and also about giving back to the community.
In July, Lucha Cantina raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by donating a portion of every sale. Last year, Lucha Cantina was the only locally owned restaurant to host the fundraiser “No Kid Hungry,” and raised $5,000. Each dollar provided 10 meals for children. The fundraiser will be held again in September and patrons will be able to make a $5 donation in return for a $10 coupon that can be used at Lucha Cantina.
In cooperation with the Veteran’s Drop-In Center, the restaurant cooked up a family-style Easter dinner for 70 disadvantaged veterans this year; 60 were served the previous year.
“We’d like to see that number continue to grow to about 100 or more,” Johnson says.
Lucha Cantina is open Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight.