Muchachas: Fun Time Cantina
Everyone knows what to expect from a typical Mexican restaurant: earthy colors and patterns taken from traditional Mexican artwork, waitstaff in brightly colored outfits, maybe a sombrero or two. If you’re familiar with Muchachas, the quirky Mexican cantina at the Holiday Inn Express in Al Safa, then you know all of the above goes right out the window.
The earthiness is replaced with blue and pink pastel tones, a shelf full of porcelain chihuahuas takes the place of rustic art, and you also get a pineapple at every table. No sombreros though.
The food menu at Muchachas is a single sheet of colored paper that divides dishes into separate sections. I almost expect to find a kid’s activity sheet on the other side, and that’s not a bad thing at all. There isn’t a wide range of vegetarian dishes, but there is enough.
What Muchachas does have, however, is some excellent guacamole, topped with cilantro and chopped onions for another layer of sharp, zesty flavor. Sadly, it’s not prepared tableside, but it’s still delicious. And if you think sweet potato fries are yesterday’s news, then you’ll go gaga for their crisp and fluffy Mexican cousin Yucca Fries, which come topped with cheese, chopped jalapeños and crispy shallots.
The last of the appetizers is stuffed courgette flowers, which seems to have been brought in from a high-end Italian restaurant, elegantly and artfully arranged on the plate. But once you bite into it and get a taste of the freshly made queso stuffing, you’ll find yourself right back on Mexican soil. This dish is a bit too salty for me, but the flowers have a nice crunch.
Chile Relleno, the classic classic Mexican dish of roasted poblano peppers, gets a Muchachas makeover by ditching the traditional cheesy stuffing for a hearty mushroom mixture, which is a good companion to the rich and slightly sweet flavor of the peppers. Of course, a good Mexican main course could do with a side of rice, so Muchachas adds some in with a little twist: puffed wild rice, which gives the dish a contrasting texture and an almost popcorn-like flavor. It also comes with a knitted woolen pouch containing warm tortillas, so you can make mini tacos if you like. Fair warning, the dish is a tad greasy, due to the natural oils of the chiles.
Dessert is always a tough choice, even with a limited selection to choose from, so the manager at Muchachas helps me out with a little sampler plate. There’s Paletas, rich Mexican ice cream on a stick with a layer of blackberry sorbet; Campachenas, fried Mexican custard with spiced honey and coconut sorbet; Churros, with a spiced licorice chocolate sauce, crema flan and cotton candy; and Sweetcorn Sundae, with blackberry corn cake, sweetcorn ice cream and caramel popcorn. What can I say? I’m a sucker for dessert, and this is a very satisfying plateful! Special mention must be given to the sundae, though, which highlights what an amazing dessert ingredient corn can be!
Muchachas is a candy-colored rose in a desert, given that its the only major restaurant in that area, and it makes the most of its compact space, filling it with personality and flair and some great Mexican flavors. The use of non-traditional ingredients like courgette flowers and candy floss help to create a unique profile, and add a sense of playfulness to the meal. But bring your own sombrero.
Veggie Friendly: ✔ Vegan Friendly: X
Pros: Funky decor, friendly staff, great flavors
Cons: Location isn't too great
Price: $$ (50 - 200 AED)
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