Once a notorious expat pub called The Alamo, Loca has evolved in its years to become one of the restaurants synonymous with good Mexican food and a lively atmosphere in the Dubai food scene. The wife and I headed down on Sunday night to try out a few dishes from its new menu.
Firstly, don’t come to Loca expecting a fine-dining setting (although if you look at the menu-pricing, you’d think it was fine-dining – more on that later). It’s very much set up like a pub with big screens covering the non-smoking area we were seated in and sports commentary played instead of music.
The design won’t be winning any awards, but it does the job and has a high-end pubby vibe. Tables are laid out in a way that you don’t feel cramped and chairs are comfortable. It’s a very large venue, so it feels like you can tailor how you want your night to be with different sections to sit at (some more intimate, some by the TV, some with beer dispensers on the tables etc.).
For a Sunday night, the place was busier than expected when we arrived at 7pm. We were sat by the window by the swimming pool and all the other tables in the vicinity were taken, although admittedly, by the time we left at around 9:30pm, it was a lot quieter.
The evening started off with a round of drinks and a spicy guacamole that was made at the table served alongside a generous bowl of gluten-free corn chips. We were asked about the spice level and being the spice-fiends we are, we asked our server to crank it up – although the guac was fresh and delicious, it still could have done with a bit more of a kick!
Once we’d polished off the appetizer, it was time for the starters: Doradas De Queso Asedero (blue corn tortillas filled with Asadero cheese, fresh Espazone and tomatillo sauce) and the Tiacoyos De Frijol Negro (handmade corn tortillas filled with chipotle black beans puree, Mexican cheese, tomatoes and sour cream).
The Doradas were great! I’m a sucker for cheese on toast and these crispy pockets filled with melted cheese and tomato, dipped in the sour cream were a heavenly Mexican equivalent! The Tiacoyos weren’t quite as good, a little bit on the bland side and could have probably done with a touch more acidity – the spicy sauce on the side brought a bit of welcoming heat to the plate though and don’t get me wrong, the wife and I snaffled them quickly.
A few minutes after the table was cleared of starters, the main courses arrived which were the Mariscos Burrito (fish, crab and chipotle mayonnaise) and Chilaquiles Rojos Tazajo (sautéd corn tortilla with beef tenderloin, chili sauce, black bean puree, egg and fresh cheese).
Both mains were enjoyable, the burrito was generously filled and the tang of the sauce on top and kick from the chipotle mayonnaise elevated the delicate flavours of the seafood inside. The steak was our favourite though, despite being pounded to within an inch of its life, it was extremely tender and flavourful; a very cleverly put together dish with a fantastic balance of textures and tastes – the addition of the egg the proverbial “cherry on top”.
The only frustrating element of an otherwise cracking main course selection was a sad-looking bowl of well-overcooked Mexican rice that accompanied it. Completely devoid of any flavour or texture (is mush a texture?), it was well out of place.
For those who read most of my reviews, you’ll know that I’m not a big dessert guy and when venues insist on you trying a dessert, it’s always a bit difficult to review it, as 9/10 I don’t like it. Again, this was the case here:
The traditional three-milk cake wasn’t to my taste at all – I felt like it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be cakey in texture or smooth and was just too sweet for my palate. The ice-cream was great though, like Terry’s Chocolate Orange in flavour, it was silky smooth and perfectly-executed.
Throughout the evening service was sharp and slick, drinks were served quickly, food came promptly and the staff all went about their duties with a smile on their faces. We were there the day of the big storm and despite a leak emerging in the roof next to where we were sat, it was dealt with calmly and professionally.
The drinks selection is vast and they have a “make your own margarita section” where you can go as far as picking your own salt! Never seen something quite so customizable before and despite my creation being horrific (my fault with my watermelon and charcoal combo!), it was a fun element of the evening.
Whilst I was instagram-storying the night (follow me @theemireati if you want!), someone messaged me saying “I love that place, but I never go any more because it’s so expensive” and when I looked at the pricing on the menu, he’s not wrong. Mexican food is all about flavour, not high-end ingredients. Selling fajitas for 158 AED, guacamole for 72 AED and burritos for 98 AED is hugely excessive and is going to put a lot of people off coming back, despite it being rather good.
We left the venue to a warm goodbye from the staff members and our tummies full and our thirsts quenched. We were guests of the restaurant so didn’t feel the sting of the pricing thankfully, but I think others might have a bit of a shock when the final bill comes at the end of the evening.
FOOD: 12/15 – Other than the terrible rice, the dishes were hearty, well-cooked and packed full of flavour.
SERVICE: 13/15 – Quick, professional and efficient.
DRINKS SELECTION: 4.5/5 – A great selection of beers and some fun takes on margaritas.
AMBIENCE: 2.5/5 – A bit too “sports-bar” for me for a restaurant that serves food at the prices they do. Would be nice to have music, not listening to football/F1 commentary all night.
DESIGN: 3/5 – Again, a bit pubby for the price but it’s a decent pub at least.
VALUE: 2/5 – The biggest letdown really, although good – the food is just far too highly priced.
TOTAL: 37/50 – If you want a lively, hearty Mexican feast and budget is not an issue, then I’d be very surprised if you left Loca disappointed. The chefs and staff do their jobs very well. For the budget-conscious though, I find it difficult to highly recommend.