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The Origin Story of Cantina Monarca, Now Open in Downtown Bellevue

December 31, 2022 - by Sandy Vo

The Origin Story of Cantina Monarca, Now Open in Downtown Bellevue

Cantina Monarca's interior -- designed by Gulla Jonsdottir

As the son of Arturo Garcia – founder of Moctezuma’s Mexican Restaurant – Bernie Garcia is carving out his own business legacy through Cantina Monarca, now open at The Bellevue Collection. The new elevated Mexican cuisine and tequila lounge brings the soul of Tulum to Downtown Bellevue by incorporating over 10,000 sticks and vines imported from the Mayan jungle, gray-toned plaster walls, and an exuberant amount of foliage and greenery.

Cantina Monarca's shrimp taquitos

“My visits to Tulum directly inspired my vision for Cantina Monarca,” Bernie said. “The restaurant emulates the town’s charm and tells the story of our passion for the culture.”

Side-by-side, Cantina Monarca’s interior is moodier and has a more upscale, modern atmosphere compared to Moctezuma's casual, family-style concept. While the design may differ, Bernie’s philosophy for the new restaurant remains the same as his father’s: to provide great hospitality and high quality food & drinks.

Cantina Monarca spotlights over 100 world-renowned tequilas and an extensive menu of traditional Mexican cuisine with various vegan and gluten-free options. Bernie said the big hits will likely be their Wagyu carne asada, slow braised duck carnitas, and the a la carte gourmet taco menu made with fresh handmade tortillas.

“I grew up eating these dishes, the ingredients and recipes seen on the menu have been part of our family for generations,” Bernie said.

Bernie Garcia, owner of Cantina Monarca

The foundation of Bernie’s career is rooted in his father’s chase for the American dream. At just the mere age of 24, Arturo opened Moctezuma’s in Tacoma, and with the help of his wife, the restaurant rapidly gained attention for their quality and authentic Mexican food. By 1988 – 10 years after the first opening – he had already moved the business to a larger space that could accommodate the demand.

Joining the restaurant industry always seemed inevitable to Bernie. He grew up amid Moctezuma’s success, spending most of his grade school years washing dishes, bussing tables, and serving food. Bernie’s decision to stay in the family business eventually led him to his current role as president after his father stepped down in 2007 and after graduating from the University of San Diego.

“There’s a ton of responsibility that comes with the job. When I first took over, I’d have nightmares about bankrupting the company, but that fear of failure helped me make better decisions,” Bernie said. “It has now been 44 years since my father opened Moctezuma’s, I want the same legacy for Cantina Monarca.”

The design, menu, and concept planning took over two years to finalize. Since acquiring the space, Cantina Monarca has gone through several opening delays due to the pandemic and supply chain challenges.

Interior inspired by Tulum, Mexico

“I want to emphasize that this isn’t just a side hobby or a little pet project, this is the business we’ve been building for the past four decades,” Bernie said. “We did not take any shortcuts and I think guests will agree.”

When asked about the future of Cantina Monarca, Bernie gave a simple one-sentence answer: to become the premier Mexican dining destination where guests can gather and enjoy a relaxed luxury experience with their friends and colleagues.

“Our passion for the business has helped us achieve many career dreams,” Bernie said. “It [our passion] has been a big part of our success because when you genuinely love what you do, your hopes and goals are always within your reach.”

Cantina Monarca is now open inside Lincoln Square South, visit their website for more information on hours, menu items, and more.

This blog is part of the Heart of Bellevue: our campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.


Cantina Monarca
504 Bellevue Way NE
Bellevue, WA 98004

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