Mexican in Mala Strana

Perfect for a dressed-down business lunch or casual eveningmeet-up, Cantina, Prague’s first mexican restaurant, is still sending out fiesta-worthy fare.

Once upon a time, international dining was considered an oxymoron in Prague. Today, the city is home to a steadily expanding range of ethnic food restaurants. Prague residents and visitors are no longer limited to the glut of pizza-pasta parlors and Chinese fast-food joints, but can explore Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Middle Eastern, Indian, Vietnamese, and Latin American cuisine at various price points. It’s not improbable to imagine that Prague could some day match the culinary breadth and depth of top Western European destinations such as London and Amsterdam.

If international dining in Prague still appears to be a new frontier, then Cantina is undoubtedly one of its early settlers. Located in Malá Strana, the Mexican restaurant has consistently earned praise from locals and expatriates since it opened its doors in 1997. Easy access by a variety of trams to the restaurant’s location on Újezd keeps the restaurant perpetually busy. Making reservations is strongly recommended.

I recruited a friend — a Mexican food newbie — for a meal on a late summer afternoon. We apparently had just missed the lunchtime rush, but the restaurant was still half-full and was occupied by a mix of young families, business people, couples, and a tourist group. If the restaurant’s mustard yellow walls, burlap bag-lined ceiling and tall cacti seemed a tad South of the Border kitschy

toasted garlic bread slices rounded out the dish. We concluded that the ceviche, like the atzeca, would do well as a light meal. After giving our appetizers high marks, we looked forward to the entrees.

Ordering a burrito, a Mexican staple, is not unlike receiving a gift. It comes tightly wrapped and there’s no telling your reaction — joy, indifference, or disappointment — to its content. To find out, you just have to dig in tentatively (or eagerly). Taking apart the flour tortilla wrapping of Cantina’s burrito de ranchero revealed strips of tender marinated beef and a creamy blend of refried beans, rice, and cheese. It was a good gift accompanied by fresh salsa, sour cream and a small balsamic tossed side salad. How would a house specialty fare? We also requested the lomositas chipotle, described as pork in spicy sauce from chili peppers. Unless you’re a huge fan of chipotle, you might find the taste of the dish overwhelmingly smoky. The lomositas came with two sides: an oddly sweet Spanish rice — unexpected since the dish was described as spicy — and cheese quesadillas. The quesadillas were as promised: warm and generously filled with cheese. One more point for a classic.

Compared to its extensive list of entrees, Cantina offers a mere five choices for dessert. To make up for the lomositas and to get back on the simplicity train, I ordered the torta de choco, a traditional chocolate dessert. The torta was served cold with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Smooth and light on the palate, we made quick work of it. It would have gone down as well served warm and with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. If the torta de choco was a modest production, then the restaurant’s Captain Morgan’s Ice Cream would be akin to Mardi Gras on a plate: scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with rum-soaked plump raisins, then doused in whipped cream and chocolate sauce, and delivered in a massive fried tortilla bowl. Sometimes it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and in the case of Captain Morgan’s Ice Cream it helps to spread the good around. Though we stuck to non-alcoholic drinks because it was a working lunch, it’s worth mentioning that Cantina has an impressive list of tequilas, the traditional Mexican liquor made from blue agave. Selections are available based on the liquor’s aging process: from no aging done at all to a few months, to a year or more.

There are some ethnic food restaurants in Prague that take advantage of their positioning as “the first”, “the only”, or “one of a few” to churn out watered-down dishes that do pale in comparison to the deliciousness and flavor of their native cuisine. As the first Mexican restaurant in Prague (as proudly proclaimed on its website), Cantina however has managed to avoid that smear by sending out fresh, good quality Mexican meals and even earning the effusive endorsement and patronage of the Mexican Embassy along the way. If you seek authentic Mexican, it’ll be hard to go wrong at Cantina.

Once upon a time, international dining was considered an oxymoron in Prague. Today, the city is home to a steadily expanding range of ethnic food restaurants. Prague residents and visitors are no longer limited to the glut of pizza-pasta parlors and Chinese fast-food joints, but can explore Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Middle Eastern, Indian, Vietnamese, and Latin American cuisine at various price points. It’s not improbable to imagine that Prague could some day match the culinary breadth and depth of top Western European destinations such as London and Amsterdam.

If international dining in Prague still appears to be a new frontier, then Cantina is undoubtedly one of its early settlers. Located in Malá Strana, the Mexican restaurant has consistently earned praise from locals and expatriates since it opened its doors in 1997. Easy access by a variety of trams to the restaurant’s location on Újezd keeps the restaurant perpetually busy. Making reservations is strongly recommended.

I recruited a friend — a Mexican food newbie — for a meal on a late summer afternoon. We apparently had just missed the lunchtime rush, but the restaurant was still half-full and was occupied by a mix of young families, business people, couples, and a tourist group. If the restaurant’s mustard yellow walls, burlap bag-lined ceiling and tall cacti seemed a tad South of the Border kitschy, that was soon forgotten as we became engrossed by Cantina’s well-orchestrated food theatre: the swift and polite wait staff delivering sizzling platters of meat, a smorgasbord of sides, warm baskets of tortilla, and tequila shots to neighboring tables.

Sometimes the test of a restaurant is not how creatively or elaborately it can turn out a meal, but how it delivers on the basics. We started with a traditional Indian soup: sopa Atzeca — a medley of black beans, fresh corn and tomatoes, nachos and cheese. For those who enjoy texture, the soup had an appealing mix of smooth (the cheese) and crunch (the corn and the nachos). With its simple ingredients, the Atzeca had a home-made quality to it as befitting any comfort food. (After the last spoonful, I was tempted to recline on my bench for a nap.) The portion was generous for a starter and I could imagine ordering the Atzeca solo as a quick and fulfilling meal on another visit.

With a second starter, the ceviche de salmon, Cantina’s adept handling of simple ingredients shone through again. Marinated strips of salmon were packed atop a towering mound of finely chopped lettuce, tomatoes and red onions. The salmon strips were pleasingly robust and well-steeped in a cilantro-infused olive oil, garlic and lime marinade that gives the ceviche its trademark refreshing tang. The vegetables had a healthy tone to them — telltale signs of oxidization were absent — and warm toasted garlic bread slices rounded out the dish. We concluded that the ceviche, like the atzeca, would do well as a light meal. After giving our appetizers high marks, we looked forward to the entrees.

Ordering a burrito, a Mexican staple, is not unlike receiving a gift. It comes tightly wrapped and there’s no telling your reaction — joy, indifference, or disappointment — to its content. To find out, you just have to dig in tentatively (or eagerly). Taking apart the flour tortilla wrapping of Cantina’s burrito de ranchero revealed strips of tender marinated beef and a creamy blend of refried beans, rice, and cheese. It was a good gift accompanied by fresh salsa, sour cream and a small balsamic tossed side salad. How would a house specialty fare? We also requested the lomositas chipotle, described as pork in spicy sauce from chili peppers. Unless you’re a huge fan of chipotle, you might find the taste of the dish overwhelmingly smoky. The lomositas came with two sides: an oddly sweet Spanish rice — unexpected since the dish was described as spicy — and cheese quesadillas. The quesadillas were as promised: warm and generously filled with cheese. One more point for a classic.

Compared to its extensive list of entrees, Cantina offers a mere five choices for dessert. To make up for the lomositas and to get back on the simplicity train, I ordered the torta de choco, a traditional chocolate dessert. The torta was served cold with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Smooth and light on the palate, we made quick work of it. It would have gone down as well served warm and with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. If the torta de choco was a modest production, then the restaurant’s Captain Morgan’s Ice Cream would be akin to Mardi Gras on a plate: scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with rum-soaked plump raisins, then doused in whipped cream and chocolate sauce, and delivered in a massive fried tortilla bowl. Sometimes it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and in the case of Captain Morgan’s Ice Cream it helps to spread the good around. Though we stuck to non-alcoholic drinks because it was a working lunch, it’s worth mentioning that Cantina has an impressive list of tequilas, the traditional Mexican liquor made from blue agave. Selections are available based on the liquor’s aging process: from no aging done at all to a few months, to a year or more.

There are some ethnic food restaurants in Prague that take advantage of their positioning as “the first”, “the only”, or “one of a few” to churn out watered-down dishes that do pale in comparison to the deliciousness and flavor of their native cuisine. As the first Mexican restaurant in Prague (as proudly proclaimed on its website), Cantina however has managed to avoid that smear by sending out fresh, good quality Mexican meals and even earning the effusive endorsement and patronage of the Mexican Embassy along the way. If you seek authentic Mexican, it’ll be hard to go wrong at

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