Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cantina

“What the United States does best is to understand itself. What it does worst is understand others.” Carlos Fuentes
There is no consensus on the best Mexican restaurant in Prague. But more often than not, you'll hear the name Cantina.

The place has been around for a long time and has a good location near the heart of Malá Strana.The combination of location plus reputation means it is almost always full.

Showing up without a reservation at this relatively small place often means you will be turned away.So, I was surprised when we were able to snag a table for lunch on a weekend afternoon.For a long time, I'd been wanting to see why some people like it so much. I ate there once many years ago and wasn't terribly impressed.

When the waiter came over, V ordered a bottle of Corona with lime, and I reflexively said to make it two.

I know she ordered this beer for nostalgic reasons, but I felt regret as soon as the waiter left.

First, it was way overpriced (85 CZK). Second, it is not good beer.

It's like drinking a club soda with lime, which is pleasant enough, but not worth the money. Still, it reminded us of old times back in the USA, and that's worth something.

For a starter, I had the Sopa Azteca (50 CZK). It is described as a traditional Indian soup with beans, corn, tomatoes, nachos, and cheese.Disappointing.

It was seriously bland. I ended up doing the seasoning myself, first adding salt, and then throwing in plenty of the hot sauce on the table. It was OK after that.

The finely shredded white cheese was pretty to look at, but very annoying to eat. It melted into the soup, and when you tried to eat it, it left strings of gooey cheese on your chin with every bite. I need to use a knife with my soup?

I ordered a frozen margarita (120 CZK). Terrible.

There was almost no flavor.

It was desperately lacking in lime and even sweetness. It just tasted like a tequila slushee.

At least there was plenty of alcohol in there to help me forget.

For a main course, I had the quesadilla lomitas (230 CZK). A fried flour tortilla was filled with cheese, pork tenderloin, green onion, cilantro, and jalapenos.Another disappointment.

I thought the pork was cut too thick, and I really didn't taste any marination or seasoning beside salt. There was hardly any cilantro. The green onions were overcooked and lost their flavor.

The whole thing just bored me. If it wasn't for the jalapenos, I would have fallen asleep.

V ordered the mixed chicken and beef fajitas (289 CZK). It came out on an iron skillet. It was hot, but lacked the spectacle of a full sizzle.On the side, they served little dishes of refried black beans, sour cream, and red rice with a few sad corn niblets thrown in.

There was also a small amount of unremarkable guacamole.

The meat picked up a lot of flavor from heavy seasoning, but we wished it got more from charring in the pan. There was a ton of onions and peppers.

The whole thing came with two large flour tortillas, but we had order one extra to eat it all. Overall, it was pretty good, but nothing special.

The brightest spot of the lunch was the service. Very friendly, attentive, and efficient. I'll admit, in a place so popular and busy, I expected less. A pleasant surprise.I can now check Cantina off my "to do" list. There's nothing there that would make me go out of my way to return.

Personally, I've never really had good Mexican food in Prague, so there's not a lot of competition.

Why do some people think Cantina is the best Mexican in Prague?

Don't ask me. I can't understand them.

Cantina
Ujezd 38
Prague 1 - Malá Strana
Tel. (+420) 257 317 173

23 comments:

Howitzer said...

Thanks for the great blog! My daughter is studying in Prague for the semester (University of Miami). We are visiting next week and have been plotting our movable feast through Prague (and Budapest and Vienna).
Any recommendations for the "musts" as far as dining is concerned.
Appreciate the blog!

Pivní Filosof said...

"Why do some people think Cantina is the best Mexican in Prague?"

For the same reason people still think Pilsner Urquell is the best beer in the world. Never tried another one. Hypnotised by marketing, etc.

Also, why do people drink Corona in Prague?

Brewsta said...

"Also, why do people drink Corona in Prague?"

I plead insanity.

As to restaurant musts, I'd suggest trying Cafe Savoy for the food, they do a good breakfast, or Cafe Louvre for the hot chocolate and history (Einstein and Kafka hung out there and it is a local favorite).

Anonymous said...

ad Mexican food:
Have you tried Azteca just around the corner from Cantina? I had decent quesadillas there some time ago. They had good wine too.
Blabous

Allyn said...

I too have found Mexican in Prague to be pretty awful... except at La Casa Blu. I loved their chicken tacos. Yum. I wouldn't compare to Mexican I am used to, but for what it is, and to get that fix, I thought they were pretty good. I'm now gone from Prague, back in the states, but I know they were going smoke-free on New Year's, so I'm wondering if they are as popular now. Anyway, still love the blog!

Brewsta said...

I confess a weakness for La Casa Blu chili nachos, even though they have olives.

I've walked by Azteca a few times and wondered why I hadn't heard much about it. I'll add it to the list.

Kimberly said...

The last time I was in Prague in May of 2007, we ended up at Cantina one afternoon. I have to say that I thought their gazpacho was one of the best I've tried (though I'm certainly not claiming to be a gazpacho expert!). Not sure if it was on the menu or some sort of special.

I love when you blog about a restaurant I've tried! :)

Laura Baranik said...

Looks like nothing's changed. Cantina's one of the most overrated restaurants in Prague.

Sabina said...

The best Mexican was the little fast food opposite Kotva which is no longer there. Now Sonora kind of half-fills the spot. I personally would not bother with Azteca; I ate there once - blandity bland.

Anonymous said...

Banditos is a great little place. Tremendous food and a good atmosphere sometimes (depending on which staff you get).

Brewsta said...

I ate a Sonora a year ago and was not impressed. Couldn't muster the desire to go back for a second visit to do a post on it.

A few years ago, had an OK meal at Banditos, and then had serveral bad ones -- the careless kitchen served overcooked, dried out food plus poor service. Never went back.

Anonymous said...

I ate at Banditos last week for the first time, and I must say it was miles better than Cantina - the food was very fresh (despite the fact that the restaurant seemed half empty). And the flavour of the meat (steak burrito) really came through - not drowned in that dubious sauce that Cantina pours on everything when frying it! Portions large, beer excellent (one of the few restaurants in Prague serving desitka - Budvar). Only drawback is the lighting which is just a bit too bright, emphasizing the kitchy knick-knacks which seem to be the standard for all Mexican restaurants...
Kuba

Anonymous said...

Well, an accurate view. Been in Prague for the past 12 years and remember been going there once every 2 or 3 years. I can honestly say that each time I went I said to myself I would never return. But I lived in San Antonio for 3 years and need my mexican fix now and then. The blogger that said there no good mexican in prague has it right. dont give in or they will never get it right here.

Jim Freeman said...

Interesting to me that someone who dislikes every restaurant he visits, feels the need to spread the virus. Maybe you should have been here 16 years ago, you'd notice the culinary progress and perhaps find something to cheer your jaded writing style. Ho and also Hum.

Brewsta said...

I'd try to correct all your misapprehensions, but dammit, Jim, I'm a blogger, not a miracle worker.

Oh, what the hell, I'll knock a few down.

I'm "someone who dislikes every restaurant he visits."

Take a jaded writer's advice, Jim: Be careful when usings absolutes. Check out my recent posts on Mirellie, Angel, Bohemia Bagel burgers or Argument lamb chops? Loved 'em.

I should have been here 16 years ago? I've noted tons of progress since I first came 14 years ago. You're gonna give me a hard time over a lousy two years?

You're a tough critic, Jim, but not very well informed. I await your prickly response.

Sved said...

Thanks for the info on this place, been thinking about it but not anymore. As I wrote in your last mexican post it would be interesting to see you try Azteca. I have still to find better Mexican here in Prague. (Definitely not an expert but still..)

Good luck and keep on the frequent posting.

Anonymous said...

Cantina is the suck, Banditos can be good on the right day, and Sonora is miles better than any of the competition.

Tecka.

cuketka said...

hi brewsta, sorry for OT, but i had to: cafe st. tropez aka passion chocolat is open again!!!! :)

multi monitor said...

whew that looks good, made me hungry

Anonymous said...

That's right, Jim, don't mess wit da Brewsta! Dude, don't "jaded writer" on him, pico vole! Tecka! ;-D

Brewsta said...

Thanks, Cuketka. Already looked in the window. And thanks for getting my back, anon.

Good_Will said...

Mexican food discussions just drive me mad. Everyone has a different idea of what Mexican food should taste like depending on where they grew up and what Mexican restaurant they were taken to while they were a kid.

I tried to raise this issue on Expats.cz and was shouted down by a bunch of morons.

If you have a decent cookbook and cook Mexican food regularly or have been all around Mexico and tasted real Mexican food then feel free to criticise the Mexican food here in Prague.

If not, then what you are doing is criticising a cuisine that you really have no idea about.

I agree with Brewsta. Cantina is expensive and serves rubbish Mexican food which they create to cater for mainly American palates. And even then they get it wrong.

Same with Banditos and every other restaurant here. Edible food but rubbish when compared to the real thing.

Time to step of my soapbox before I start frothing at the mouth and fall over backwards. :)

Cheers, Will

Pivní Filosof said...

Will makes a good point that can be applied to every ethnic restaurant the world over:
The food will never taste like in its country of origin. Unless a restaurant manages to import every single ingredient they will need, something will always taste different. Hell! Even the water is different everywhere!
To that you will also have to add local tastes. A restaurant is a business and will want to please as many people as possible, if that means that Mexican, Thai or Indian food is bland because not many Czechs like their food so spicy, well, so be it. That is unfortunate for the minority, but that is capitalism for you.