Monday, November 9, 2015

Sizzling Fun and Focused Flavors at Cantina Laredo

Walking into the year-old Cantina Laredo restaurant situated in the King of Prussia mall about 30 miles west of Philadelphia is a pleasant if unremarkable experience. Furnished in rich browns and cool grays, with semi-circular banquettes set into the walls and a large bar situated to one side, the place is appealing without being overwhelming. Nothing particularly screams “Mexican fusion”—any type of cuisine might lie in wait.
All that changes once you sit and have a look at the menu. Arranged traditionally, with appetizers, soups and salads; specialties; entrees; and desserts, the menu is focused and clean—the mark of a restaurant that knows exactly what it is.

The general manager and proprietor, Mark Watson, came out to greet us, and informed us that we were in for a treat—a four-course tasting menu prepared especially for us.

To start, he had the bar send us two specialty drinks: A pineapple margarita, and a mango mojito. Both were excellent, if sweet (especially the mojito), with fresh fruit, and in the case of the mojito, freshly muddled mint and a sugar-cane stick.
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We also enjoyed chips and two varieties of excellent homemade salsa, one fiery-hot and served warm, and one on the milder side.

Our knowledgeable and friendly waiter, Abraham, then prepared our first course tableside—the homemade guacamole. This should be ordered just for the freshness of the ingredients and the spectacle at your table.

Fresh avocados were crushed with the zip of lime and jalapenos, cilantro, salt, and other fresh ingredients. Paired with Laredo’s whisper-thin homemade tortilla chips, this is a must-have.
My dining companion and I both found it a trifle salty, but otherwise excellent.



Next came our appetizers—a trio composed of two tuna tartare tacos, two carnitas tacos al carbon, and two shrimp and chorizo empanadas. My favorite was the carnitas taco; its meaty, sour flavor combined perfectly with the homemade soft corn tortilla.

It reminded me of the authentic Mexican street food I enjoyed in Houston. My wife enjoyed the tuna taco, made with sushi-grade tuna. The empanadas was doughy and delicious, yet the shrimp was a trifle scarce.

Our main course was ready just as we were finishing our appetizer. The house specialty, Camaron Poblana Asada, stopped us both in our tracks. Two thin slices of flank steak, each bearing diamond-shaped grill marks, wrapped themselves around a roasted poblano pepper, which was stuffed with melted Monterey Jack.

Gorgeous—and delicious. Served with excellent jasmine-lime rice and roasted asparagus, the steak was fork tender, perfectly seasoned, and tremendously addictive. It was easily our favorite of the savory courses.

Yet we couldn’t ignore the other two main offerings—a wonderful vegetarian enchilada with tender artichoke hearts, and two bone-in carnitas, or braised pork shanks. The latter, tender and smother with chipotle-wine sauce, were melt-in-your-mouth succulent and worth the price of admission.

But hang on folks—the best was yet to come. Another tableside treat, our dessert was something out of a gastronomic fantasy. Abraham first slid a large wedge of homemade apple pie onto a hot cast-iron plate. To this he added cool cinnamon ice cream.

And then, the piece-de-resistance:

A generous scoop of warm, sweet brandy butter that instantly bubbled to life on the hot metal. Delicious smells of apple, cinnamon, and warm brandy filled the air, and we dug in. Easily the best part of the night, the sweet, hot apple pie combined succulently with the butter and ice cream, and though we were stuffed to the gills, we couldn’t stop eating had our lives depended on it.


The service at Cantina Laredo was nothing short of excellent from the time we were welcomed inside to the time we walked out to our car, and we will certainly be back many times in the future.

Don’t let this laser-focused, authentically inspired restaurant’s suburban look fool you—this place knows exactly what it wants to be, and it achieves that goal with aplomb.

4.5 Stars out of 5.

We ended our night with a stay at the Hyatt House, in a tower suite overlooking the mall, with a fantastic breakfast in the morning.

PLUS: 

  • Tequila Dinner- An exclusive four-course dinner with Don Julio Tequila pairings on November 11, beginning at 7 PM. The cost is $49.99/person and space is limited. 
  • Veterans Day- All veterans and active military personnel can enjoy a complimentary meal (up to $15) on Veterans Day as a small thank you for their service.
Pictures by christine tarlecki and Stephen trimble. They may not be used, reproduced or reused for any reason. Please contact with any questions. 

By Stephen Trimble, guest blogger
Stephen Trimble is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.

Special thanks to:
Mark Watson and his team,
Ariel Vegotsky at Vault, and
Natalie McCrea at the Hyatt!

  

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