Could Lila Taqueria be the most authentic Mexican restaurant in Dubai? 

Homegrown, family-run, unlicensed, Lila Taqueria is bringing an authentic taste of Mexico to Dubai.

It’s owned by Chef Shaw Lash (aka Lila) and her husband Tarek. Chef Shaw, who used to work alongside Michelin-lauded chef Rick Bayless, left her corporate job in Dubai to open the region’s first wood-fired taqueria in Jumeirah.

Just over two months since they opened, we decided to pop in and check it out…

It’s a simple, welcoming space of terracotta and greenery, with bare wooden tables and an honest open kitchen where you can watch the corn tortillas being made in-house by hand using Mexican heirloom corn.

Outside there’s a taco window for food to go and a small-yet-bustling outdoor terrace which also happens to be dog-friendly.

On a Tuesday afternoon, the restaurant is just picking up. We sit next to the window and are immediately greeted by Chef Shaw, an American expat who grew up in Mexico and spent years training under Diana Kennedy MBE and working alongside Mexican food chef Rick Bayless. In other words: she knows her stuff.

We kick off with guacamole, chips, and dips (Dhs63). Note: these are not just your run-of-the-mill chips and dips. The guacamole is freshly chopped, full of crunchy onions and zesty hints of lime, like a wake-up call for the palate, served with four large oblong-shaped tortilla chips – utterly moreish. There are two dips: tomatillo jalapeño and three-chile salsa, which elevate each crunch but could also get away with a little more spice.

The rest of the menu boasts a panoply of flavours and textures. Other than the heirloom corn from Mexico, Lila uses locally-sourced ingredients from the likes of Deira Waterfront Market and Dibba Bay.

We order the tuna tostadas (Dhs58) and we’d do so again. A generous portion of locally sourced yellowfin tuna crudo is served on top of two tostadas with sliced avocado and finished with perfectly-toasted crispy garlic which offers an abundance of textures and flavours in every bite.

Next up: tacos. Spoilt for choice, Chef Shaw recommends the citrus-marinated chicken tacos (Dhs68) and the skirt steak costra-style (Dhs75). Tacos come in threes per portion which given the generous filling is plenty.

lila taqueria

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The chicken tacos are served with pickled veg, crunchy lettuce, and a generous topping of àrbol peanut salsa which is thickened with avocado (the Mexican way). These little parcels of joy are well-balanced – nutty yet soft, salty yet sour.

The beef version comes with sliced avocado (you can never have too much avo), enlivened with a chipotle salsa and Mexican cheese crisp that makes the eyes open.

From the specials, we order the lamb ‘al pastor’ gringa (Dhs75). A Middle Eastern-inspired take on authentic Mexican tacos and a dish we could eat every day for the rest of our lives, no wonder it’s one of their best sellers. Marinated lamb, creamy green salsa, and sliced radish comes wrapped in a large tortilla with a coat of salty, burnt cheese. It’s filling but worth every bite.

Verdict: If you think Mexican food is all mushy avocados and greasy tacos, this place will prove you wrong. Quality ingredients and authentic flavours are well-presented in a warm and casual atmosphere, sure to keep the stomach full but the heart even fuller.

Lila Taqueria, 786 Jumeirah St, Umm Suqeim, Jumeirah 3, Dubai. Sun, Mon, Tues, Weds, Thurs, 12pm to 10pm. Fri-Sat, 12pm to 11pm. Closed on Mon. Weekend breakfast from 10am to 1pm.

Images: Provided/What’s On