Irena Kaci

Castle Cantina, a tapas restaurant that opened just in February 2022, has the happy task of living up to its lavish exterior, and owner Suhaily Quiñones is ready for the challenge. Quiñones was born in Puerto Rico, but is no stranger to central Massachusetts. “I grew up moving back and forth between Puerto Rico and Worcester my whole life. I went to school in Worcester and even studied at QCC for a while before dedicating myself to owning my own business.” When I ask her how she got into the food and hospitality industry, I can hear the smile in her voice as she answers she has, “been working in restaurants since I was sixteen years old,” adding, “it’s where I met my husband.” Her husband Jose Flores and Quiñones brother Carlos Quiñones are silent partners in the business. “They support me but I’m definitely the head of the business.” 

The Castle Cantina, formerly Castle Restaurant, is a striking building with its own moat, is located at 1230 Main Street in Leicester. It was built out of fieldstone in 1937 to be a replica of 16th century style chateaus reminiscent of Morro Castle in Havana Cuba. In the 1950’s, the Nicas Family took over the building to open their restaurant. In doing so they struck a deal with the city to use construction materials from former Worcester landmarks to build an addition. That addition is made up of pieces from the old Elks Home of Worcester, the YWCA and the old Worcester Public Library. 

This was all a delightful discovery for Quiñones who, after getting a taste of running her own business with her small cafe “Stone and Sparrow” in Sturbridge, was simply looking for a new space for her dream restaurant. When the location she was initially exploring fell through, her realtor suggested they try a new place that had just gotten on the market, and the rest –as they say –is history.

“I was just taken aback by how much potential I could see with this place. The lake view, and the garden were really big selling points.” The Cantina is currently open for dinner with a full bar/lounge and a dining room, but so much more is in the works. “We are hoping to get the patio set up by summertime, and I really see the garden and outdoor spaces as a venue for all kinds of events.” The menu honors what Quiñones describe as her heritage. “The menu plays with authentic Spanish Tapas with a Caribbean twist. I love that Caribbean spice and so I had to include that.” 

Some menu favorites so far include the ‘tortilla española’, ‘gambas de ajillo’ and Quiñones’ personal favorite “tostones rellenos”. In addition to the tantalizing tapas, Quiñones really leans into Spain’s cocktail strengths with an extensive variety of sangrias, well beyond white and red, which they of course, also have. “My favorite right now is the white lavender sangria, but the hibiscus sangria has also been quite popular. We are really playing with botanical flavors for spring.” The wine list is brimming with big Spanish reds and, although the building makes it impossible to install draught lines for beer, the Cantina offers a good variety of bottled and canned beer as well.

“Learning about the rich and storied history of this building, I really think historical tours of the place would also be fascinating,” Quiñones continues, “but that is what I love best about this place. There is no ceiling to what we can do with it. The sky truly is the limit.”