Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I have been wanting to do a post on Mexican food in Dubai ever since I went out with a few friends, all of whom (aside from one) had lived in Texas at some point.  Some of the girls had lived here for only a few months, but despite that, all of us had tried at least 2, but often 3 Mexican restaurants even within that short time-frame.

What makes an otherwise smart “Texan” (anyone who has lived there at some point) think they can find good Mexican food all the way over here in Dubai?  Blind hope fueled by desperate yearning that only a spicy salsa and flavorful enchilada can tame.  For those of you who might not know, Mexican food is religion in Texas.  Everyone has their favorite place to get the basics like margaritas, queso, enchiladas, fajitas, and breakfast tacos.  And you probably have your favorite “Tex-Mex” place and “real” (interior) Mexican food place. So when you move, even to the Middle East, you’ll go searching for that euphoric feeling you get when you’ve just found your favorite fish taco.

The reason I haven’t written this post sooner (that Mexican food outing I mentioned earlier was way back in October of last year) is because I have just realized I don’t like writing about food.  I definitely like eating it. (ha! who doesn’t?)  I really enjoy watching cooking shows, browsing through cookbooks and reading food blogs.  I’m just not good at writing about it.  My food vocabulary is quite limited.  Words like “yummy” or “blah” come to mind repeatedly, and I grow impatient when I really have to articulate the nuances of texture, flavor, and overall vibe of a meal.    I also tend to take pretty ugly pictures of food.  It certainly doesn’t make for very interesting reading.

So, in honor of Cinco de Mayo and in celebration of Mexican heritage and culture, here’s a brief rundown of the three Mexican restaurants I stick to, without all the colorful language, enticing descriptions, and beautiful photos those food bloggers are so good at.

Maria Bonita Taco Shop

This place constantly gets good reviews.  I was super excited to try it because it’s located within walking distance from my house.  So try it I did, many times.  And I’m sorry to all of you Maria Bonita fans out there, but this place disappoints almost every time.  It’s mediocre at best.  The rice and beans that are the ubiquitous accompaniments to any Mexican meal are pretty much inedible.  Meat is often tough, and although they have all the staples on the menu,  everything I’ve tried seems a little off, but sometimes I can’t put my finger on why.  Another drawback: no alcohol.  As you may remember, alcohol is only served in restaurants here when attached to a hotel.  It’s tough to love a Mexican meal without a Dos Equis or margarita in hand.  Why return then?  Well, it’s in walking distance to my house, remember?  And sometimes I just need a taco, even if it’s a bad one.  Plus, the atmosphere is fun – quite colorful and usually bustling with people.  They actually play Spanish music, it’s not stupidly expensive like many of the restaurants in Dubai, and my kids like the green parrot that hangs out on the patio.  Redeeming things on the menu – the guacamole (sometimes not exactly bursting with flavor, but freshly made at your table and consistently good), and the Tacos Maya.  I also like that it has more “authentic” things on the menu like cactus and mole.

Exterior of Maria Bonita. Fittingly, there is a kebab place next door. It’s other neighbor is Central Perk. A place to get a good latte while feeling like you’re on the set of Friends. Somehow, this seems normal in Dubai.

Cactus Cantina

This is where we went that evening back in October.  I don’t remember much about the food except for thinking it wasn’t awful, but not memorable. (obviously.)  It IS part of a hotel though, so at least you can have a beer or margarita.  Here’s a couple of pics from the interior:

The decor is festive, but as this sign illustrates, despite trying hard, something is just not quite right. This seems to be a reoccurring theme in the Mexican food scene here in Dubai.

a shout-out to the Tex-Mex theme of the restaurant. Inside this bathroom, there were large pictures of  barely dressed cowboys. Very unexpected and quite funny to experience here in Dubai


This is my favorite of the three.  The food is not Tex-Mex (less gooey cheesy, more seafood, etc.) and it’s usually quite flavorful and reliable.  I have had one not-so-great food experience there (I think it was chicken enchiladas?) but in general, the ingredients seem to be authentic and fresh.  Menu items taste as expected, and the atmosphere is modern and not kitschy.  A few drawbacks: sometimes the music selection is a little off-kilter (the other night they had C&C Music Factory and Vanilla Ice playing) or the place is packed with shouting soccer fans watching their match on the many flat screen TVs.  It’s also on the pricey side.  But it’s located among several other restaurants and bars on the beach so generally just a pleasant location.

Interior of Loca Mexican Restaurant. Photo via timeoutdubai.com

Overall, I’m just happy I can eat Mexican food here when I don’t feel like trying to make it myself.  Imagine how hard it must be to get tomatillos all the way over here to the desert on the Arabian Peninsula!  A girl can’t get too picky.   So cheers to these three restaurants and happy margarita drinking to everyone celebrating Cinco de Mayo today!


About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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8 Responses to Happy Cinco de Mayo!

  1. I too am always in search of that perfect mexican restaurant, which does not seem to exist anywhere else than the US (OK- I am counting Mexico out of the equation as that goes without saying…) Europe at least is like 20 years behind in Mexican food… in quality and popularity!

  2. Are they open to suggestions of an ancho chile-hummus, or perhaps mansaf a la parrilla? Actually, my other vapid question is, have you tried out the TGI Thursdays? I get the name, but I vaguely recall walking by one near one of the abra jetty’s by Shindagha.

  3. Shannon says:

    Love it! I agree, though I haven’t been to Maria Bonita’s yet… Prob due to the lack of margaritas… 😉

  4. As I mentioned, you’re not missing out on much. 🙂 But if you’re ever over here and want to check it out – call me and I’ll come meet you!

  5. Jess says:

    I just read this after e-mailing you about Cinco de Mayo in Philly! I can’t even imagine it in Dubai!

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