Hot Hot Hot
Spicy food and the warm glow of... a fountain fire? Yep. See why we loved Cantino Laredo.
By Katie Pollock
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.When my family comes to town from St. Louis, we always wind up making a jaunt down to Branson Landing for shopping and wandering. On their recent visit, my sister and mom—Lizzy and Caron Pollock—joined me for dinner at Cantina Laredo, the new-ish Mexican eatery that sits right next to the fountain on Branson Landing. The night was getting chilly, and we sat on the patio where we overlooked Lake Taneycomo and were close enough to the fountain to feel the heat radiating out from its fire effects. It was actually pretty cozy. And, amazingly, the fountain’s music wasn’t nearly as loud and distracting as we thought it might be, considering our proximity to the speakers. Besides a very pleasant (if a little too dark) patio, the décor inside Cantina Laredo is sleek, with light wood on the walls and sexy lighting everywhere and a huge horseshoe-shaped bar. It’s the chicest-looking Mexican restaurant I’ve ever been in.
At Cantina Laredo, the servers make super-fresh guacamole from scratch right at your table. They mash up the avocados with jalapeños, onions, lime and cilantro, and the difference in taste between pre-made guac and made-in-front-of-you guac is worth the $7.99. (I could justify a few too many just-one-more bites.) The salsa is delicious, too. Our server brought out warmed hot salsa (heavy on the chili powder) and cooled mild salsa (which still had a nice spicy kick and plenty of cilantro).
The servers and hosts at Cantina Laredo are all pleasantly attractive young men and women wearing sleek black clothes and hailing from places such as Mexico City, which is where our server told us he lived before coming to Branson. For the most part, everyone was helpful. But we had a little bit of confusion at first over who exactly was our server because three different people asked us questions and then abandoned us before our real server took our order. He seemed a little bit distracted and ready to rush off a lot of the time. In addition, my check was incorrect, and no one really seemed very interested in keeping our water glasses full (a disappointment when eating spicy food).
But it was some go-ood spicy food. We all loved our dishes, which were all quite different. Lizzy ordered an old standby: Steak fajitas ($14.99). The steak was beautifully cooked and served in extra-generous portions. And it might sound weird to harp on this, but we were all impressed with the Mexican rice. It was fluffy! I can’t count how many times similar rice sides have been icky-dry at other restaurants I’ve been to.
My mom ordered the Mexico City chili relleno ($10.99). The pepper was filled with ground beef, pork, almonds and raisins, and it had an almost cinnamon-sweet aftertaste. The sweetness of this dish was a lovely change of pace.
I had the tacos cascabel for $13.99: Five little soft corn tortillas filled with chicken that’s covered in a very spicy cascabel pepper sauce. On the side was a relish of marinated sweet onions and olive oil with lots of cracked black pepper. I ate some of my tacos with the onions and some without, and I can’t decide which I like better. The onions were perhaps a bit too olive-oily, but their sweetness was a fun contrast to the hot sauce. I have no complaints about this dish, and I couldn’t get enough of the cascabel sauce.
Besides the not-so-perfect service, my only disappointment was in the margaritas. I’m a big fan of tequila and of margaritas, and these just didn’t impress me. My sister thought hers was too strong, but I would never complain about that particular problem. What I didn’t like was how incredibly sweet they were. I couldn’t drink much of it before I got tired of puckering up my lips.
I hope the service issues we had aren’t par for the course here. I spoke with another visitor who was happy with her service. The food quality left nothing to be desired, so if my next visit also has great service, then I’ll be entirely satisfied… as long as I don’t order a margarita.