“We tend to look at Mexican food as nachos, which is not Mexican food really, they don’t eat them.” Anthony Bourdain
Do you like your corn chips with a side of freshly made guacamole? Your tacos spicy and your fajitas sizzling? Loca, Dubai’s award winning home-grown Mexican restaurant and bar, has opened its third and largest venue and its first in Abu Dhabi at the very much en vogue Al Maryah Island.
With only limited tex-mex, takeaway options and standalone alcohol free Little Mexico available the capital was crying out for a Mexican restaurant serving authentic cuisine. Loca has a Mexican Executive Chef Juan Flores at the helm, a menu packed with Latin American favourites, beer on tap and a lively margherita filled Ladies Night.
Dishes include homemade tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas alongside the tasty made-to-order regular guacamole that’s prepared at the table with or without habanero chilli (or half and half as we had made especially for us by our very accommodating waitress). Four alternative varieties of the avocado based favourite are also available, Frutas (with strawberries and blackberries), Cangrejo (with crab), Almendras (with smoked almonds and queso fresco aka cheese) and Chipotle (with smoked chipotle and manchego cheese).
In fact there’s so much to choose from, from made-to-order ceviches, appetisers, soups and salads, fajitas, enchiladas, burritos, tamales to chimichangas. Other options include Loca specialties that are all accompanied with de la olla beans and seasoned rice. Dishes include Carne Arrachera (grilled Angus beef marinated in chipotle adobo), Loca’s Ribs (slow roasted beef short ribs in housemade chipotle guajillo bbq sauce) and Camarones ala diabla (jumbo prawns in jalapeno butter with roast tomato sauce).
Chef Flores has added special dishes to the menu from his homeland including handmade corn husk tamales and banana leaf-wrapped roasted lamb. I’ve heard very mixed and somewhat underwhelming reviews about the food and the value for money at Loca Abu Dhabi but based on my many visits I’ve been very happy with my choices, although I can only comment on the vegetarian options.
Now let’s talk desserts, there are five options and the two I’ve sampled were very tasty. The traditional three-milk cake, Bedel Tres Leches was served with chocolate ice cream and was delightful but my favourite was the Banana Empanada, banana turnovers with with sweet cream, cinnamon sugar and vanilla ice cream. Still on my list to try are the Pastel Patron Café, Helado Frito and the caramelized Bananas Borracha.
Don’t expect Mexican cliches at Loca, there are no sombreros (apart from my one in the photos above) and ponchos lining the walls and only two token spiky cacti in the reception area and some vibrant wall art. The entrance and corridor to the restaurant are dark with vibrant green hues, light is reflected off the ceiling of beer bottles. Beer lovers will rejoice at the ‘Heineken Extreme Draught’, the only table-top Heineken beer tap in the Middle East which allows guests to order a chilled ten litre keg (18 pints) of Heineken to share at the table. The bar serves forty-two varieties of beer and craft hops, those who prefer wine and cocktails can pick from the full menu.
Local Abu Dhabi is a vibrant place, the large dimly-lit venue has different areas for dining, drinking, watching sports or listening to live music as well as a huge alfresco terrace that has views across the water. It’s part of the popular Galleria Dining Collection that includes other popular venues Bentley Bar & Bistro, Zuma, Roberto’s, Dai Pa Dong, Nus-ret and the recently opened Coya.
Mexican cuisine is alive and kicking in the capital, if you have a craving for a burrito, fancy a fajita or are lusting after a chimichanga, Loca has you covered. Ladies Nights are proving most popular with the females in the capital which may have something to do with thirteen flavours of unlimited margaritas available every Wednesday from 7pm, Loca is also pulling in a solid and loyal weekend crowd. Are you Loca? You need to pop down and find out for yourself.
Loca Restaurant and Bar
Location: Level 1, The Galleria, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Telephone: 02 582 3639
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday – Noon until 2am
I was invited to Loca and have since visited independently. All views are my own. Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2017. All rights reserved. Additional photos used with courtesy of www.locauae.com