Cantina was always the margarita, chips and chimichanga restaurant I wanted to love, but never could. The chips were stale, the margaritas syrupy and the food, well, was only a step above Taco Bell. On a good night. Don’t even get me started on the subway-station bathrooms.

Which is why it’s heartening to see the spacious downtown Santa Rosa cucina reincarnated as La Rosa Tequileria and Grille. Without trying to reinvent the wheel, the new owners have given the restaurant a stylish makeover (beautiful mural, new banquettes and chairs, new bathrooms and a bright open bar), a solidly tasty updated menu, a kick-ass tequila lineup and a more upbeat vibe without taking away it’s approachability, affordability or “let’s go get a margarita and chips” vibe.

Special features include tequila flights and tastings, along with real-deal margaritas — housemaid sweet and sour, rather than the stuff that comes in 20 gallon drums.

Here are some don’t miss eats and drinks:
– The Smokey: Made with Mescal and tequila (with a bit of cranberry), this is a sneak attack of a cocktail that’s rich and smoky and delicious.

The Smokey

– the Diablo: Strawberry meets jalapeno in this saucy little margarita.
– The Cucumber ‘rita: Fresh cucumbers and tequila. ‘Nuff said.
– Scallop ceviche: Not overcooked, not undercooked, with bits of chorizo (better than it sounds) and peppers.
– Killer guac, salsa and chips
– Caramelized plantains with ice cream: Shut up. Just shut up.
– Mini carne asada tacos with pineapple: Sweet, spicy, mini. Can’t eat just one
– Fish tacos: Ahí ahí tacos with bits of fresh orange, cabbage, cilantro and guacamole. Takes me back to Baja.

In short, it finally feels like the place we always wished Cantina could be, but never was. See you on the patio.

La Rosa Tequileria and Grille, 500 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Open Mon-Thu 11am-10pm; Fri-Sun 11am-2am