Kinta Mexican Bistro

Kinta is a contemporary Mexican Bistro with a lush Garden setting.
An exploration of the senses awaits in Kinta.

One of our favourite Cozumel restaurants, we started with Kinta as the first review partially because we know that this will likely be one of the last for Kinta at their current location – and are truly excited to see what awaits the discerning foodie at their new location, in the process of renovation.

EDIT note (Nov, 2020): This review was first written in March, before the CoVid-19 contingency closed most things down on Cozumel. At the time of actual publishing, Kinta owner, Chef Kris Wallenta, said the timeline had changed and believed they were looking at a fall date for the move. As of November 2020, the re-opening has been pushed back to 2021. We at Deliciosa are certain Kinta fans will wait patiently for their re-opening and new location and we will be sure to write another review after exploring the new changes.

The Secret Garden

“It’s a few streets back from the waterfront and seemed a little uninviting from the outside, but inside the staff were warm and friendly and our table was in set in a secret garden.”

The front seating area of Kinta is a warm splash of colour. Mexican mask art decorates one entire wall, while another displays painted artwork. The wall facing incoming guests has a small nook, stocked with interesting miniature Mexican cooking utensils (such as a tiny comal) and the personal cookbooks of Kinta owner, Chef Kris Wallenta. However unless it’s raining out, this wonderfully colourful room is often unused and to those passing by, the restaurant will appear completely empty of diners. This is because the main seating area is actually a garden, in the back of the restaurant.

To the delight of diners who venture inside and are seated in the garden, there are LED-wrapped trees, lush greenery and a winding LED-lit pathway leading through the seating area. There’s also an open-concept wood-fire oven, nestled in a back corner and guests can watch the meal preparation taking place there. The tables are set far enough apart to offer privacy for diners, while the space allows for more tables to be placed together, to accommodate larger dining groups. Even in the open space, with the addition of trees and a curved stone wall, the restaurant garden still manages to maintain an intimate, romantic feel.

Unfortunately, for those who don’t know about the hidden Kinta garden, when walking past the front of the restaurant, it’s almost impossible to see much of anything past the indoor seating area. Due to this visual restriction, it’s likely a great deal of people have missed out on the culinary experience that is Kinta, simply because from the street, the restaurant appears empty – which is mistakenly equated to lack of quality.

Since opening, Kinta has grown up, from a richly coloured, eclectic environment, to a more relaxed ambiance, better reflecting the serious thought and care going into the food quality and presentation. Unfortunately, it also now suffers somewhat of a disconnect between the still casual ambiance, versus the actual food quality. First time guests may be led to believe it’s a much more casual dining experience – and arriving with this expectation, it’s often demonstrated both in their dinner attire and surprise at the menu offerings – and prices.

Make no mistake, Kinta is not some upscale taco-joint – it is an experience for foodies and deserves your attention.

Paradise for Foodies

“My husband asked if I wanted to lick the plate when I was done and I had to think twice about it…”

I can’t talk about the food at Kinta without first mentioning the “Midnight Pork Ribs.” These succulent, melt-in-your-mouth ribs, slow-cooked in their wood-fire oven from just before midnight, the night before (hence the name), until late in the afternoon the day of service – the ribs are both tender and juicy. The ribs are not boneless, however you may not notice this. I’ve accidentally eaten a good portion of bone, due to the fact it was so completely softened by the slow ‘n low cooking process. Covered in a Jamaica/agave glaze and presented cleanly on a plate with rosemary potatoes and “Yucatan salad” (a mix of lightly sautéed vegetables), the Midnight Pork Ribs are the star of the show.

Not to be out-done, the tasting menu is heaven on a plate…or plates, in this case. With 5 courses currently (this, along with their regular menu, changes seasonally), the tasting menu is where Kinta really gets to shine. If you didn’t realise the restaurant was a quality affair, this will show you the way. Presented with small portions of some of Kinta’s best, this will not only fill you up, it will leave you wishing you had room for more. This writer has been in the restaurant and heard professional chefs rave about the options they’d been presented and it was a good reminder to slow down and savour the food and to appreciate the work and detail that goes into this type of menu.

Listed as a “Fodor’s Choice” a Lonely Planet “Top Choice” – their tasty appetizers and elegant dessert help to round out the menu. Kinta will romance your palate and welcome you to the family.

The staff at Kinta are welcoming and knowledgeable but Kinta manager Daniel Hernández, who has extensive bartending experience, is particularly happy to appraise your tastes and preferences in order to provide you with the perfect wine, or cocktail suggestion to pair with your meal. If you’re open to new suggestions and flavours and you have the opportunity to speak with him, ask him to recommend something for you.

With 7-8 drinks on their menu (off-menu also available), Kinta takes classic cocktails and gives them a twist. Their Oaxaca Mule takes a traditional Mule, then adds Mezcal and their own, special ginger syrup. It’s fresh and crisp, has that distinct (but not overwhelming) Mezcal flavour – and is one of the best mules I’ve ever had. Of course, Mexican tradition cannot be ignored and Kinta offers 4 different margaritas. However, you won’t find any artificial flavours, candy-coloured flavoured mixes, or bottled lime here. Instead, Kinta offers the “Kasa” classic margarita, as well as the “Kozumel”, with it’s hibiscus infusion, the “Margarindo” with a crisp tamarind twist and the “Hothouse”, which is both fresh with cucumber and spicy with fresh serrano pepper.

For those looking for a more classic meal pairing, Kinta offers an assortment of wines to fit your palate.

Slow Food
“Slow Food” is in no way meant to describe the service at Kinta. Instead, I’m referring to the culture of dining out in Mexico – which tends to be different from the rest of North America – and also to the restaurant experience of savouring your meal, the ambiance and your dining company. It’s not uncommon for guests to spend hours in the garden, slowly working their way from appetizers to dessert and cocktails. Enjoying each bite and the conversation and company of their fellow diners.

Kinta is not a fast-food restaurant and the expectation should not be a rushed meal. Table turn-over is not the main goal of the restaurant – your best experience is. With this in mind, if you are used to a faster dining experience and expect your food & check to be expedited, it would be best to inform staff beforehand that you have a short timeline in mind, otherwise, they will allow the time for you to enjoy each course and the company of your friends/family – as the culture here dictates – and equating that with poor service is benighted. Kinta is not an Olive Garden or Red Lobster, with food processed and frozen, waiting for a microwave and heated plate to imply freshness. The chefs start early in the day with fresh-sourced seafood and other items, carefully prepping for the evening service with quality and care.

Food by Design
With a Bachelors degree in Gastronomy and years of practical experience, Kinta Executive Chef, Omar Moreno, is driven to continually learn and innovate. He has a love for Mexican food and recently, took some time to work in exchange for learning more about the processes at “DOS” in Vera Cruz, under the tutelage of Chef Erick Guerrero (Omar has told me he was particularly interested in their treatment of seafood.) Chef Moreno brings all this experience and love of gastronomy to the kitchen of Kinta, not only pushing for better kitchen practices and environment – but to continually improve the quality of dishes they provide their guests.

Chef Omar Moreno

The hustle-and-bustle drive behind the restaurant Kinta, is Chef Kris Wallenta. As a teen, working at his uncle’s Cozumel restaurant, Kris is one of those Chefs that didn’t realise working in the restaurant as a summer job would ignite and become his passion – but once it did, there was no stopping him. This young Chef actually has 2 restaurants on the island, as well as being part of two more in Denver CO.

In our conversation, Kris explains,

“The vision behind Kinta was to create the first modern Mexican restaurant in Cozumel. The goal was to create an authentic experience that focused on awakening the 5 senses in every guest. The style was an emphasis on local Mexican ingredients that were inspired by tradition, yet reborn in a light, fresh, vibrant perspective.

The vision of Kinta 2.0 is to continue to refine what we have created. We have evolved continually and learned so much about Mexican cuisine in the past 12 years from pre-hispanic traditions to modern technique. In order to give Kinta its own identity we need to strip everything down to the core essentials and focus even more on our craft and our local purveyors. We want every guest to feel Mexico when they dine in the new Kinta. From plates, to decor, to music, to the flavors and presentations. We want to give each guest an experience to remember.

Kinta is no longer a young restaurant. It has grown so much over the years and I think we will now we will that it has truly matured. It will still be fun and relaxed but we will see a greater focus on table side preparations, elaborate presentations, sophisticated cocktails and spectacular service.”

KINTA information
5ta Avenida entre calle 2 y 4 – San Miguel de Cozumel
Service available in English and Spanish
Click here for the Kinta website
987 869 0544

Photography credit: Alan Fresnel

To read more about Chef Erick Guerrero and why Chef Moreno was interested in training with him, click here for Google’s English translated page and click here to read the original Spanish article.

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