The highly anticipated SoCal Cantina officially opened its doors Friday in downtown Tuscaloosa with hopes of bringing Southern California and Miami vibes to the Druid City.

The Tuscaloosa Thread first reported that SoCal Cantina, a Miami-based restaurant, would join the city's restaurant and bar scene in November 2021. 

The restaurant's owners had plans to open in January 2022, but supply chain issues and the extensive renovation process pushed the date back for months.

The new eatery finally opened Friday at 2310 University Boulevard a few doors down from DePalma's Italian Cafe.

Miami entrepreneurs AJ Billapando and Leo Holtzman partnered with Tuscaloosa's Grant McCabe, along with Matt Amick and Cory White, to bring the concept to the Druid City. Together, they aim to bring an elevated cantina experience to the area, complete with craft cocktails and a soon-to-come nightlife scene.

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"It starts with the vibe. SoCal is short for Southern California, so when you hear the music playing, you get the vibe," Billapando said. "We do Southern California-styled street tacos with high-quality ingredients made every single day. Our cocktails include fresh fruits and veggies. We hand-squeeze lime juice every single morning for hours. We don't use mixers or pre-made anything. We even measure our simple syrup down to the micro so everything is almost scientific. Everything we do is consistent, pure and clean."

Holtzman said their featured foods are signature dishes, created by them and unlike traditional Mexican-styled tacos to which Tuscaloosa diners may be accustomed.

"Our tacos are all original creations by us, some of which have anywhere from four to seven ingredients, but all of those ingredients work together to create a better bite than they would individually," Holtzman said.

The owners say the restaurant will soon offer late-night dining, a concept Holtzman called "Cocktail Collections, and, eventually, an upstairs lounge in the facility.

The lounge will feature a rotating menu of small bites and cocktails and will feature DJs to add a nightlife component to the new venture. The construction of the upstairs area is expected to take an additional four to five months before it is open to the public.

The owners said they are proud to showcase the new concept and it ready to take Tuscaloosa by storm.

"It's more than a restaurant, it's a vibe," Billapando said.

Check out the first look into SoCal's new space with the Thread's exclusive gallery below.

SoCal Cantina Opens in Downtown Tuscaloosa Friday

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