By Anna Grace Moore

Photos by Untold Imagery

The best blessings often come in disguises. Aimee Castro, co-owner of Sol Y Luna Tapas and Tequilas and now, Cantina Tortilla Grill, says that life often throws some crazy curveballs. However, with a little persistence and a positive attitude, one can hit a home run.

The New Orleans native had just finished college at Loyola University New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck. This curveball in particular hit a lot of people hard. Aimee decided instead of staying in town that she would venture out on her own and see where life would take her.

Not knowing Spanish or ever having studied the language, Aimee took a chance and enrolled at at Bridge Linguatec–an immersion school in Argentina whose instructors did not teach or speak in English to students trying to learn Spanish.

After finishing school, Aimee moved to Birmingham. One of her first jobs in town was as a server at then popular Birmingham restaurant, Los Angeles. It was there that she met her husband, Jorge Castro, whose brother, Guillermo Castro, spearheaded the family business and opened six, different restaurants across Birmingham, including Los Angeles.

Aimee went back to school at UAB and earned her second bachelor’s degree—this one in Spanish. She says she studied French in high school and at Loyola, but learning a new language and diversifying her skill set excited her. Little did she know how much Latin American culture would influence her life.

Once she received her bachelor’s degree, Aimee stayed on at UAB to earn her master’s degree in education with a focus on teaching ESL students. Even after graduating, she fell in love with Birmingham—Homewood specifically.

“I’ve always liked Homewood,” Aimee says. “When I was working on my master’s, I had a fellowship with UAB and started teaching at Homewood High School.”

Aimee also quickly fell in love with Jorge, and the two tied the knot in 2009. Not long after did Aimee graduate and begin teaching Spanish in the Birmingham City Schools district. She very quickly learned to juggle working full time as a teacher and in the Castro family’s restaurant business.

Just when Aimee felt things might be smooth sailing, life threw another rough curveball. Guillermo suffered a heart attack and passed away unexpectedly in 2011.

At the time, the Castro family owned five restaurants in town. They consolidated down to just two after Guillermo’s passing, Sol Y Luna Tapas and Tequilas and Cantina Tortilla Grill. Sol Y Luna was open from 1998-2013, and when it closed, both Jorge and Aimee searched all over Birmingham for the right place to reopen.

Cantina Tortilla Grill, on the other hand, was open from 2003-2019 in Pepper Place, and when the business’ landlords decided not to renew the lease, Jorge and Aimee were left wondering, “What’s next?” Both of their restaurants had now shut their doors for the foreseeable future.

It wasn’t until the Lane Parke development was built and offered up the perfect place for an upscale restaurant that the Castros decided to reopen Sol Y Luna. The restaurant opened its doors on Feb. 10, 2020, but by March 13, 2020, the business had gone to only take-out orders in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If Aimee had learned anything about curveballs by then, she says it would be to put on a brave face and find another way. Thanks to the generous support of the Mountain Brook community, Sol Y Luna stayed open and thrived.

The business’s success led the Castros to feel as though it was the right time to reopen Sol Y Luna’s sister restaurant, Cantina Tortilla Grill. The only question was where to open. In September 2022, Little London, whose iconic, red, double decker bus stayed parked in front of the restaurant, closed its doors.

Aimee heard the news, and she and Jorge came out to look at the location, which was exactly what they were looking for.

“We found this spot, and it had so much charm in the cute little neighborhood that is West Homewood,” Aimee says. “It has so much character.”

The Castros worked for nearly a year after leasing the property to get Cantina Tortilla Grill into shape. In August 2023, they reopened the restaurant after nearly four years of searching for the right time and place.

According to the business’s website, “Cantina Tortilla Grill has been serving up made-fresh-daily Mexican food in a laid back, fun atmosphere since 2003. The uniquely crafted menu items follow the recipes created by our founder Guillermo Castro, whose love for travel and a passion for fresh Mexican food came together to influence every aspect of the restaurant.”

Strolling into Cantina, one first notices the bubblegum pink bar–fit with bottle sporting names such as hornitos plata–tequila made 100-percent from blue agave. Customers order at the bar and are immediately served their drink, so they never wait for their beverages while also waiting on their meals.

They can choose from any one of Cantina’s wholesome wooden tables–each designed and decorated to fit the quaint, laid-back atmosphere. Aimee says Cantina’s intentional design contributes to the aesthetic appeal of the restaurant.

Although the drinks and the decor are second-to-none, what makes Cantina stand alone in terms of authenticity is, of course, any one of the delectable dishes. The tacos are all à la carte. Those who loved Cantina’s cuisine in 2003 will be happy to learn that the menu hasn’t changed–the same, high quality food (with a few new dishes) are still available.

The original fish tacos, which consist of egg-washed Tilapia filets, slaw, avocado, cilantro mayo and chile de arbol salsa, are a longtime favorite. Paired with a prickly pear margarita, the churrasco steak, which is served with saffron rice, refried beans, queso fresco and pico de gallo, makes for a great dinner.

“There is something for everyone,” Aimee says.

Children love the cantina quesadillas or nachitos, and even the most picky eaters will find one of the tacos locos to enjoy. Aimee recommends for customers dining on their lunch break to try the taco Cubano, which has roasted pork shoulder, manchego cheese, pickles and cilantro mayo. It’s a light lunch that can be paired with any one of the menu’s tasty sides, such as frijol de olla or garlic home fries.

The real home run on the menu, however, are the desserts. The vanilla flan, which is served with kahlua liquor and strawberries, will make anyone’s taste buds tingle. The churros and lemon tres leches are also great choices.

Looking back on the last 20 years, Aimee says some of the curveballs she was thrown—navigating life after Hurricane Katrina, going back to school and changing careers, losing a loved one and being business owners during the pandemic—all guided her exactly where she needed to be. She may never have met Jorge if she hadn’t taken a chance and come to Birmingham, and now, the two have been married for 14 years and have a precious, 1.5-year-old son.

Life is funny that way. It hardly ever goes the way one wants it to, but take a page out of Aimee’s book: Persistence and a positive attitude will eventually help one hit her homerun and bring her where she wants to be. 

Cantina Tortilla Grill is located at 162 Oxmoor Road. It is open Tuesday-Wednesday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Visit to learn more.