A Mexican friend of mine told me about La Taqueria and said this was the restaurant all Mexicans go to in Dubai for authentic Mexican food. The thought of reviewing a newly opened Mexican restaurant with a Mexican friend who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Mexican cuisine and cooking techniques excited me no end! Finally a restaurant review with some real substance! Did I mention this gentleman boasts a supernatural sense of taste and deep understanding of South American flavours and textures? This would elevate my review to a level not seen before. This was a game changer – a massive opportunity to bring some well-needed credibility to my work.
However, unfortunately, my Mexican friend was busy and turned down my invite. So I invited a non-Mexican bloke instead who unfortunately accepted the invite. Yes, I am as disappointed as you are but life goes on, and so must this review. I apologise in advance for what you are about to read. It’s not going to be as good as it could have been.
The location of the restaurant is terrible – lost in the empty buildings of Business Bay with no signage or easy access. They would win the “Hidden Gem” award, if only the judges could find them to give them the prize. This place will not benefit from passing trade anytime soon.
The interior is amateur and lacks the mandatory Dubai gloss and polish. There is exposed brick, but they are industrial breezeblocks, not imported Mexican redbrick. They have minimalistic lighting, but we are talking clinical fluorescent strip lights, not Edison bulbs. There is an open kitchen, but that’s because the door is propped open by a crate of Masafi. This place is not going to win any awards for interior design.
The fifteen tables and chairs are rickety steel things which favour function over form, and the acoustics of the place can make a man go mad. There isn’t a tall, attractive hostess ready to charm you into signing over your first-born child, nor some well trained, polished waiter to upsell you their most expensive dish.
There is nothing on the windows, no graphics or fancy foodie slogans, no decorative items, just a slap of paint, a quick brush of the concrete floor and the doors are open.
But, by Jove, they don’t need any of that. They really don’t. Walking in, there is an honesty – a humbleness that is almost tangible. There is a bell at the entrance with a sign that reads, “If you liked the food, ring the bell on your way out.” That tells you everything you need to know about the place.
There is no-one to there to seat you, but a guy sitting quietly on a laptop in the corner stands up and greets you with a genuine smile and friendly hello as soon as you walk in.
He brings over a menu card, holding it like he’s surprised they even have menus. He immediately asks if he can get you a drink, but he asks as if you are a good friend who has come over for a chat. Thankfully, he doesn’t really think this and refrains from sitting with me at the table.
A Taqueria is simply a place that sells tacos, burritos, and other Mexican food. The menu is a single card with about twenty options, ranging from ceviches to soups and prime steak to salads – and of course the tacos. Los Tacos.
As I waited for my disappointingly non-Mexican friend to arrive, I tucked into some nachos and the trio of sauces they bought over. There was a dark habanero salsa, pureed guacamole, and a chipotle salsa. I confidently tried a healthy amount of habanero salsa and instantly regretted it as I felt my face go numb thanks to the mule kick of heat at the end.
My dining partner finally arrived and knowing his Mexican food experience was a jar of guacamole and a bag of Doritos that he bought from a Blockbuster checkout when he rented Red Heat back in 1988, I placed the order for both of us.
We ordered the tacos and the quesadilla. Simple, honest and outstanding. The tacos that La Taqueria serve are derived from the street tacos of Mexico, not the Americanized versions we are used to. They are all about the meat flavours, marinades and cooking techniques. The quality is laid bare for everyone to appreciate and they don’t hide behind fancy presentations and unnecessary sauces and toppings.
The Barbacoa taco was exceptional – slow cooked in it’s own juices, the beef takes on a tender, deeply flavourful profile. It is then generously ladled onto a homemade, warm corn taco and served with house-made mole. The chicken in the next taco was tender, slightly charred but juicy and loaded with flavours only a chef with a real understanding of Mexican cuisine could deliver.
The asado taco was small cubes of marinated beef, which released a deliciously salty and umami flavour that left me salivating for more. I was regretting inviting my friend even more now. I should have come alone.
There is a duck taco too, which is incredibly moreish and the taco pastor is the shawarma equivalent in taco form. Their quesadillas are deep-fried and surprisingly light, stuffed with a mild Mexican cheese.
For what it’s worth, my friend also agreed that the food was sensational and had heard of La Taqueria’s credibility on the industry grapevine. However, I largely ignored his feedback – did I mention that he wasn’t Mexican?
They are a bit slow on their delivery of the food, and the overall service is kept to a bare minimum – but if they can keep the food standards up, then a lot of flaws can be forgiven.
However, what it has in abundance is an infectious charm and enthusiasm. The guys running the place are the owners, and they run it like it’s their livelihood – because it is. Husband and wife with brother-in-laws and friends. They engage in conversation and ask genuine questions about your experience. They want to know your names and expect a handshake and a goodbye when you eventually leave.
I went to a recently opened restaurant last week in a five-star hotel. Everything was perfectly fine, but for some reason, it didn’t warrant a review. It wasn’t until I visited La Taqueria that I figured out why. The difference was night and day between the two. One was heavy on design and PR and glitz and glam, and the other was heavy on charm and honesty and hard work and passion.
I know which one I prefer, and my recommendation is to make your way there as fast as you can. Don’t worry about finding it – just listen for the continuous sound of that bell.