Rita Cantina is one of the best Mexican restaurants out east. They have a lovely outdoor dining area and Oaxacan-inspired indoor dining room with orange and beige walls adorned with modern cacti. The bar is always full with locals and visitors enjoying fresh oysters and margaritas. The menu is Mexican but with a modern twist. A menu favorite is the Crescent Farm Duck Carnitas, which is such a testament to Rita’s commitment to using local and fresh ingredients. This large plate allows you to create multiple tacos using succulent duck, crisp butter lettuce, guacamole, and salsa.
The Masterminds behind Rita Cantina is Chef and Owner Eric Miller and Partner Adam Miller who spearheads the bar program. With years of experience and love for locally sourced ingredients, Rita Cantina is a triumph.
Hamptons.com spoke to Chef Eric Miller on his career, Rita Cantina and the Hamptons.
How did you get started in your culinary career? Did you always want to become a chef?
I studied ecology in college, but I always worked in restaurants and decided to study at the Culinary Institute of America to become a chef. I worked at several NYC restaurants, including New York City restaurants include Cavo Café Lounge and Garden, City Café, Tavola, Chianti, the Parker Meridien Hotel, and Helmsley Palace Hotel, as well as Charlemagne in Aspen, Colorado. When I moved out East, I worked on my catering businesses, Food & Co and Hampton Clambake. I opened my first restaurant in the Hamptons, Madison, and Main, in Sag Harbor, and then went on to open Bay Kitchen & Bar in East Hampton with my son and business partner, Adam Miller.
Where did the idea for Rita Cantina come from?
After a lengthy conversation between myself and Adam, we both agreed that coastal Mexican cuisine would best fit the beloved location we found in Springs. We wanted to bring exciting flavor profiles while sourcing the finest and freshest ingredients with as much locally harvested as possible. That’s how Rita Cantina came to be.
How would you describe Mexican cuisine?
For me, Mexican cuisine is taking the ingredients indigenous to the area and plugging them in with the primary flavor profiles of Mexican food. I am a big fan of Mexican cuisine, and my experience in fine dining has allowed me to work closely on the Slow Food, dock-to-dish, and farm-to-table movements, advocating local fishmongers, diggers, producers, and farmers. I strive to apply the finest and freshest local flavors to the restaurant’s coastal Mexican cuisine, showcasing the best local ingredients at a reasonable price point and creating an approachable restaurant for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu? Favorite cocktail?
My favorite dish is the Short Rib Birria taco since I believe we’ve added an exciting and delicious twist. We use a boneless short rib instead of a shoulder and apply an overnight braising method to the meat, incorporating various chilis and seasonings. We also locally source our fluke, shellfish, and more; I love these dishes, too. I love all of Adam’s margaritas; he is very thoughtful and precise about his craft. If I had to choose, my favorite would be the Watermelon Margarita.
What can you tell us about your extensive agave-focused bar program?
Thanks to the hard work of my son and his team, guests can enjoy a delightful lineup of Mexican-spirit-forward beverages comprising various tequilas and mezcals. The program carries eighteen mezcals, twenty-eight tequilas, and six Agave-based spirits. Other Mexican spirits include Whiskey, Rum, and Digestif. Adam’s refreshing cocktail menu offers Classic and Flavored Margaritas with tequila, spicy tequila, mezcal, or spicy mezcal. New this year are Margaritas on Draft, enjoyable in all flavors. From the seasonal Flavored Margaritas, guests can enjoy refreshing Pineapple, Mango, Passion Fruit, Hibiscus, Watermelon, or Cucumber. For Frozen Margaritas, guests can enjoy Classic and Strawberry flavors. All can be prepared spicy or not, by request. For mocktails, Agua Frescas come in Hibiscus, Watermelon, Cucumber, and more, sparkling or flat. We also proudly offer a range of select Mexican beer, bottled and on draft, and high-quality wines.
What would you like people to experience at Rita Cantina?
We’ve thought long and hard about our main takeaways from Rita; we want it to be an egalitarian restaurant for year-round Springs residents, not just the weekenders. You can get a really serious delicious meal or leave with a great experience after spending a very reasonable, affordable amount. We want the appeal to be broad; our space is for everyone. We’ve created a welcoming experience utilizing fresh and local ingredients, offering guests a curated take on modern Mexican cuisine. We are very proud of our new outdoor area with white picnic tables, yellow umbrellas, and a fun bar rail.
What is your favorite part of being located next to Michael’s Beach?
It’s actually now called Maidstone Beach! We love Maidstone Beach because it attracts a lot of local picnickers, walkers, and gatherers. There aren’t many restaurants right on the Three Mile Harbor and Gardiner’s Bay. Since we’re on a beautiful inlet, you can see every boat that comes in and out of the harbor. It’s a really unique spot with probably the most fantastic sunset you’ve ever seen in your life.
As a long island native, what are some of your favorite places?
The Hamptons has always been my favorite area. Growing up in NYC and Great Neck, I’ve always loved Montauk Lighthouse, Sag Harbor, beaches, and quintessential towns sprinkled across the island. I live here now because it’s one of my favorite places worldwide. We get to enjoy the best farming in the North and South fork, the best fish on Long Island sound, and so much more. Real people live here and source the land for a living. I love it out here and cherish the relationships I’ve forged. Cranberry Hole Road is my favorite place, and there’s an old fish factory, which now boasts the MultiAgriculture Systems, which I adore. I am so lucky to live in a very unique place. Outside the kitchen, I can be found at the local farmers’ market and enjoying time with my family outside and at the beach.
Check out www.ritacantinahamptons.com