Mexican food can be hit or miss but is this Toronto export worth its salt?

Starting as a simple pop-up food stand in Toronto, selling artwork and giving away free tacos, La Carnita has gone on to become a restaurant chain, with six branches in its native Canada and another in the US. And now, the basement of the Intercontinental Dubai Marina, is the restaurant’s first Middle East outpost.

The décor is reminiscent of an East London hipster dive bar-come-warehouse. Think moody lighting, red booths and wall-to-wall street art. Don’t expect a quiet sit-down meal here: old school hip hop and R&B tunes blare loudly and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in a club come the early hours.

The menu is divided into starters, salads, tacos, mains and desserts and features typical fare you may find in any Mexican restaurant including tacos, wings, ribs and fried chicken.

We kicked off with a traditional starter: tortilla chips with three dips, guacamole, corn salsa and spicy bean dip and smoked queso. As starters go, it certainly didn’t disappoint: the generous-sized portion was crunchy and promptly polished off.

Next, the pollo frito tacos, fried chicken thigh drizzled in lime hot sauce and the carine asada, grilled steak and chipotle mayo, delivered the same quality. We’d return to La Carnita for the polio frito alone: fresh, crispy and leaving us pining for another once we’d devoured it. No wonder our companion toyed with ordering another.

For mains, we plumped for the generously sized barbacoa grilled lamb chops drizzled in pomegranate glaze and sesame. The sesame could easily have overpowered the chops, but the unusual combination worked very well together.

Dessert – another Mexican classic; churros which were the highlight of the night. Piping hot and dunked in thick cajeta caramel sauce, they were enough to convert even the most ardent non-dessert eater.

The key lime pie was also memorable, though it was a tad rich after what felt like a conveyer belt of dishes.

Service was excellent: staff were attentive without hovering and were knowledgeable about each dish.

Intercontinental Dubai Marina, Dubai Marina, Dubai, Sun to Thurs 6pm to midnight, Fri and Sat, 12.30pm to midnight. Tel: (04) 4254030.

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