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An "authentic" Mexican, with a phrasebook hidden in its pocket..
Salsa Mexicana (Leeds)
Member Name: bamamo
Salsa Mexicana (Leeds)
Date: 21/07/09, updated on 21/07/09 (181 review reads)
Advantages: Tasty food, take away service cheaper and food ready quickly, friendly staff
Disadvantages: Not spicy enough for my liking, can get pretty busy later in the evening
As a lover of Mexican food, I was very disappointed when my favourite restaurant, The Cactus Lounge, closed its doors in Leeds a couple of years ago and was replaced by a French restaurant or something equally unlwecome (by me, at least).
After trying out Las Iguanas (horrible, don't do it), I was due to try out a Mexican place I stumbled across in Headingley, only for it to be closed when I wanted to go. So, in a last-ditch, "IwantMexicanfoodright now" attempt to find something, I finally tried out Salsa Mexicana, which at around 15 minutes' walk from my house had been right under my nose, but somehow not yet experienced.
The restaurant is pretty tiny, as some of the best hole-in-the-wall Mexican cantinas can be, and located on Harrogate Road in Chapel Allerton. It is easily reached on the number 2 or 3 bus from town in about 15 minutes, and as any Leeds citizen will tell you, there are plenty of places for an after dinner drink, indeed enough for a decent night out, since the yuppies descended a few years back and it turned trendy!
Because it's so small, reservations are usually a good idea. However, if you show up at around opening time at 6pm, you will probably be able to get straight in with a small party. The restaurant is open until 10.30 Tues-Sat, and til 10 on Sunday.
Staff are friendly and attentive, though not a hint of any Latino blood from what I've seen. The decor is a little cheesy if I'm honest, as is the music. It seems to be trying to prove it's a Mexican restaurant, whereas I like to let the food do the talking.
And, it seems, the food isn't QUITE fluent Spanish, but does a pretty good job with the aid of a few hand signals. The paper menus, which then double as table mats, has an A-Z of Mexican food on the reverse explaining any "lingo" required to understand what goes into the dishes. As for drinks, there is a pretty decent wine menu, a selection of tequilas which goes beyond all those named "Jose" to include Patron, and of course beers including, you guessed it, Corona.
The food menu is split into Small Bites and Bigger Bites. Small bites include starters such as chips and salsa and other dips, and smaller plates of ribs, tortilla soup, and quesadillas. Not quite enough for a main meal but a good starter to share. My favourite is the Jalapeno Howlers, cream cheese-filled jalapenos coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried, served with salsa, sour cream and shredded lettuce. While these are DELICIOUS, I do feel they are overpriced. They're pretty small, you only get four, and it costs £4.95. Once I bit into one to find a random red pepper. While I'm aware you can indeed get red jalapenos, these are generally the odds and sods at the end of the growing season and certainly frowned upon as not decent fresh produce, at least in authentic Mexican eateries.
As for the bigger bites, there is a decent selection of burritos (chicken, pork, beef or fish), chimichangas, fajitas and steak as well as several lesser-known Mexican dishes. Despite loving chimichangas, I generally opt for a chicken burrito in an attempt to be slightly more healthy. They are huge, stuffed to the gills with rice, cheese, delicious tender chicken, sour cream, cheese, and all kinds of other Mexican goodness! Most mains are around £8.
Food is always served very promptly, and is tasty and well seasoned. I do wish it had a bit more spice to it. I've tried a bit of people's chimichangas before and they do tend to have a bit more of a kick than the burritos, but still not what I'd expect. It's certainly not bland food, but is tasty without being WOW.
The selection of desserts is pretty limited. While the ice cream sounds nice on the menu, it comes in a small tub with very few exciting "bits" in, and the Kahlua pie is tasty but I couldn't detect much Kahlua. Splurge on a starter instead, I reckon! Desserts are all £3.25.
The restaurant also has a take-away service, which makes a really nice change from the usual Chinese or pizza options. While they don't offer delivery, food is ready within 15 minutes even at busy periods, so it's easy enough to call ahead on your way to pick it up if you live nearby. While the take away menu is more limited to a selection of starters, ice cream and burrito or chimichanga, prices for mains are about £2 lower than eat-in price.
While it lacks the spice I love in Mexican food, there is a nice atmosphere for a nice meal before some drinks in Chapel Allerton. However, I will mostly be using the take away as a tastier, SLIGHTLY healthier option to a Chinese! Worth a try if you're in the north Leeds area.
Summary: A decent shot at authentic Mexican, but I suspect it's got a phrasebook hidden in its pocket.