On Tuesday nights Lucha Cartel is more than a Mexican restaurant.
Mike Andino of Estilo Dance Company, teaches salsa classes one night a week at the Old City eatery.
After Mexican Post, a former restaurant in the neighborhood closed, the owners of Lucha Cartel saw an opportunity and a need to bring freshly prepared Mexican food back to the neighborhood.
“[Andino] comes in and teaches a lesson, some basic steps, maybe a turn or two depending on how many people are here and how well they’re picking things up,” Lara Strayer, bartender said. “It’s something you can do with your friends. It doesn’t have to be a date; you’re learning something new and it’s something you can take with you.”
“We try to keep it causal, we don’t want anyone to come in and be intimidated that they don’t know – that’s the point. You’re coming in to learn,” Strayer said.
Andino teaches the lesson after 9 p.m., starting with introductory steps and the basics for salsa dancing.
“There are a lot of places to get salsa lessons in the city, but it might be $20 per class,” Strayer said. “If you want to go every week, that’s $20 per week. Here it’s nothing.”
The food at Lucha Cartel is freshly prepared with direction from the head chef who previously lived in Mexico City. The menu includes items like enchiladas, cohinita ribeye, cortel tacos and other Mexican dishes.
After the dinner rush ends around 8:30 p.m., the staff moves all of the tables to transform the luchador-mask-lined restaurant into a space for salsa dance instruction.
“If people wanted to come in and learn, it’s an awesome opportunity,” waiter Naseeb Culpepper said. “After about an hour experienced salsa dancers come and start doing their own thing, it’s pretty awesome to watch.”
Culpepper said that when he gets a free moment between tables, he occasionally participates in the dancing.
“Let’s say you do bring a date and there are other couples,” Strayer said. “You rotate partners which is really helpful because it gets you out of your comfort zone.”
Strayer mentioned that if more students from colleges in the surrounding areas came out and participated in the lesson, it would foster an environment to make friends from different schools.
“Students could definitely learn something new,” Strayer said. “Not many students go into college knowing how to salsa dance.”
Julia Chiango can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org