It’s easy to find bad Mexican food anywhere in the world. Less-than-fresh so-called Mexican is ubiquitous from Bali to Mali, found often in airport lounges, mall food courts, and even roadside stalls in the middle of nowhere. Each typically serves some combination of stale chips, bright orange nacho cheese, rubbery chicken, and canned jalapeno peppers. The worst offender is usually a dollop of sweet tomato salsa freshly-poured – out of a bottle.
Good Mexican food, however, is much harder to find, especially as you get further from Mexico itself.
But if you’re craving a Mexican fix in Abu Dhabi, look no further than Cantina Laredo, located on the first floor of a downtown mall. It may surprise you, and not just because its ceiling is decorated with old Cinco de Mayo flags. Cantina Laredo uses only the freshest, most authentic ingredients to capture the real flavors of Mexico.
Case in point: if you order the “top-shelf guacamole,” servers bring out a black stone mortar, whole avocados, limes, spices, herbs, and salt. They will then mash your fresh and creamy guac right there by the table.
The tortilla chips are imported whole and then cut and fried daily on-site, perfect for dipping into the guacamole as you wait for your food to arrive.
Three different homemade salsas are blended at the restaurant daily – the salsa Laredo, the salsa Felix, and the salsa chipotle, in order of ascending spiciness.
One could come to Cantina Laredo just for the salsa – it’s so fresh, it’s drinkable. Salsa Laredo is made from tomatoes that are first grilled then pureed with garlic, fresh cilantro, and a special mix of seasoning that the restaurant calls “spices Delgado.” Salsa Felix adds a few more chili peppers for a stronger flavor. The spiciest is the Salsa chipotle, a smooth, thick concoction mainly consisting of dark-red and ground roasted jalapeno peppers.
The other Mexican classics do not disappoint – the chicken fajita salad comes on a bed of fresh iceberg lettuce with slivers of avocado, shredded tortilla chips, and perfectly-grilled strips of fajita chicken. Forget the dressing and pour the salsa Laredo on this as well.
The fajitas, whether chicken or beef, come out sizzling with grilled onions and bell peppers to pile onto warm tortillas.
The carne asada is flavorful and tender. It’s a lean cut of thin beef steak served with grilled onions and marinated in chimichurri sauce – made up of chopped parsley, olive oil, vinegar, chopped garlic, and oregano. It’s a little too thin, but mouthwatering.
Cantina Laredo has been open in the UAE for six years. Although it’s a part of a chain with several locations in the UK and the US (notably in London and Las Vegas), the Abu Dhabi branch is the only one outside of Europe and North America.