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First look: Check out the restaurant that will replace The Penguin in Plaza Midwood

When Alesha Sin Vanata offered me a peek inside her soon-to-open Comida restaurant in Plaza Midwood, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

As a food lover and a fan of Sin Vanata’s first Charlotte restaurant, littleSpoon, I’m excited about the culinary concept behind Comida. As a longtime Charlottean, I’ve been intrigued to see what could fill The Penguin’s shoes. And as a Plaza Midwood resident, I was dying to know what was going on behind that temporary chain-link fence.

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Eventually, Sin Vanata plans to have Comida's name on this AstroTurf wall facing Commonwealth Ave.

For anyone who ever stepped inside The Penguin, prepare for mind-blowing change. This interior is chic with dark stained wood plank ceilings and walls, a long stainless steel bar, an open kitchen (with views of a wood-burning stove), and plenty of light. It’s minimal, but gorgeous.

“I like a very clean, blank slate,” says Sin Vanata. “The only art in the restaurant should be the person across from you and what’s on your plate.”

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Possibly the coolest new addition? The patio.

Added on to the right side of the restaurant and almost completely enclosed, the patio will offer as many seats as the interior, effectively doubling the capacity of the restaurant. Touches like AstroTurf walls, lush plants, table heaters, and music should make this an instant favorite — even at the late February opening.

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In fact, the opening is going to be perfect for anyone suffering from spring fever in Charlotte that time of year. The bar — which is wide and perfect for dining — will specialize in tequila, mezcal and rum drinks.

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The menu is Mexican-inspired, with dishes like light snacks and street tacos — full of fresh and savory Pan-Latin flavors. The tortillas are made in house and keep an eye out for the “chewy chips,” inspired by one of Sin Vanata’s favorite LA spots, Mas Malo. “We’re all obsessed with the chewy chips,” she says.

And if you’ve been to littleSpoon, which often plays familiar hip-hop tunes, then you know that music sets the scene in Sin Vanata’s restaurants. At Comida you can expect to hear what she calls “post punk late 70s moving into glam rock.” Think: David Bowie, Velvet Underground or Iggy Pop.

“It’s music we all know, but don’t listen to it all the time,” she says. “It’ll give it a good, happy feel in here.”

Photos: Sarah Crosland

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