Push away that heaping plate of beans, rice and melted cheese, and take a healthier approach to Mexican food with SOL Mexican Cocina.

SOL Mexican Cocina offers an alternative to Mexican food we are used to, focusing on healthy but flavorful cuisine in smaller portions. Opening its second location at the Scottsdale Quarter within the first two weeks of March, SOL Mexican Cocina models the cuisine and atmosphere of Baja, Mexico.

Rich Howland, operating partner of SOL Mexican Cocina, says that the goal of the restaurant is for diners to feel like they are on vacation while enjoying traditional cuisine and handcrafted cocktails.

“What you will find on our menu is a large selection of appetizers that have very bold flavors and are really designed to share,” Howland says. “You order three, four or five different things, and it keeps that social environment we discovered down in Baja.”

Deborah M. Schneider, executive chef of SOL Mexican Cocina, says her inspiration comes from Mexico, not from other Mexican restaurants in America. Schneider who is the author of “Baja! Cooking on the Edge” as well as five other books on Mexican cooking says traditional Mexican food is lighter and better for you.SOL Mexican Cocina

Most of the items on the menu are vegetable-based, high in fiber and include healthier items like brown rice. But this does not go along with the myth that all healthy food has to be boring and tasteless. In fact, at SOL Mexican Cocina it is quite the opposite.

Schneider says the trick to healthy, flavorful food is keeping it simple with fresh, high-quality produce.

“Chef always emphasizes letting the flavors speak for themselves,” Howland says. “If you take a really fresh, high-quality tomato, it tastes how a tomato should.”

Even the bar uses only the freshest, best-quality ingredients. For instance, the margarita sour mix is made from fresh juice everyday, and all cocktails are handcrafted with muddled fruit that also arrives daily.

SOL Mexican Cocina has created 20 to 25 original cocktails switched in and out throughout the year based on what fruit is in season.

Howland says SOL Mexican Cocina also strives to stimulate your visual senses and in doing so created a sophisticated but casual environment for their diners to enjoy.

“We hope the end result is people feel comfortable, but they also look at it from a standpoint of being stimulated visually because great food is enhanced through your other senses: smell, taste and sight,” Howland says.

The open kitchen may contribute to that.

“I insist on cooking in an open kitchen because of two reasons,” Schneider says. “One, the kitchen is the heart of the restaurant, and two, because they can see us, and we can see them. I am cooking for a real person, and I think it creates a deeper connection in each direction.”

Howland says a successful restaurant has to include more than great food nowadays.

“It has to be about atmosphere, ambiance and the environment that you create within the restaurant,” Howland says. “I think that really is our goal, to capture not just the great food, which you would expect but also focusing on creating a comfortable, social, fun and high-energy environment.”

For more information about SOL Mexican Cocina, visit solcocina.com.