Steve has been wanting to do a little road-trip down to Branson for us all to try Cantina Laredo. He’s been talking this ‘Gourmet Mexican” restaurant up for a while. So last Monday night our three families (Danny, Steve & myself for a total of 9) headed down to Branson to try it out.
We made reservations – but since it was a Monday and was rainy we didn’t really need them. I understand the place is crowded at other times. We were seated in the back room – which appears to have walls that open up to allow open-air dining when the weather permits.
Like most Mexican places, the chips & salsa arrive shortly after being seated. The salsas (regular and spicy versions) are something very unique – they are not the red tomato-based style you see all over town. Both salsa’s look more brown than red – you might think they are soup by the looks of them. The mild is served cold and the spicy is served warm. Both have a distinct Chipotle (smoked jalapeño) flavor to them. The spicy one being served warm brings out even more flavor. Both salsas are great. The chips are fairly average – good but nothing really special. We ended up eating too many chips & salsa because the salsa was so good.
We also ordered guacamole dip ($8.99). Cantina Laredo does something else very unique with the guacamole – they make it right at your table. The server will slice open a large ripe avocado scoop it out into a bowl, then at your request will add cilantro, chopped jalapeños, chopped tomatoes & onions. So you know this guacamole is very fresh. It was good but needed more salt – we all had to add salt from the shaker. When making guacamole at home, I generally like to make it ahead of time for the flavors to combine and I think that a little sitting might make this version taste a bit better. While it is kind of neat the way they make it up at your table – it is not worth $9 in my opinion.
The kids ordered the cheese dip ($6.99 for a large) – this version was made with yellow cheese and had tomatoes, peppers & such. The kids thought it was great – I tasted it and it was ok, but I prefer cheese dip made with the white cheese.
Steve had been talking up the Carnitas ($18.99) – braised pork shanks in a chipotle sauce. Once again, Cantina Laredo does something unique with the Carnitas. Whenever I’ve ordered Carnitas at other places, the pork is typically in chunks. The pork in the Carnitas here are the actual pork shanks on the bone. I looked up what a pork shank is and it is the front leg just above the hocks. The meat was great – tender such that it is falling off the bone – wonderful flavor and these were really meaty. The Carnitas plate comes with 3 of these yummy pork shanks – lots to eat.
The Carnitas come with a spicy chipotle-wine sauce spooned over the top. This sauce I didn’t like. The flavor reminded me of a chipotle sauce I got at another Mexican place that I absolutely thought was awful – so this really colored my opinion. Steve and Danny thought the sauce was great and that I was way off base by not liking it. I dislike that ‘other’ place even more now that they ruined this dish for me!
My wife got the Mexico City Chile Rellenos ($12.29). They sounded good – filled with beef, pork, almonds & raisins topped with ranchero sauce. She wasn’t too impressed with them however. They were ok but not great.
I was able to sample some of the fajita beef – and it was great – the best fajita beef I’ve ever had. It was very tender, had a great flavor and the marinade they used enhanced the flavor a great deal. Next time, I’m getting something with this beef in it.
While we were really full from all of the chips, salsa, guacamole, and our own dinners (and sampling of others), we decided to go all the way and order desert as well. Several got the chocolate cake ($6.79) but I didn’t taste it.
I was in the mood for apple pie ($5.49) and I’m sure glad I was! This was the absolute best apple pie and possibly the best desert I’ve ever had. The pie itself was nice, but it was the ‘extras’ that made it something really special. One, it was topped with a cinnamon ice cream. Two, and more importantly it was served with a generous amount of Mexican brandy butter sauce (more on this in a second). Three, it was served on a sizzling hot fajita plate with the brandy butter poured over the top and all around the slice of pie. This sauce was the highlight of the dish – it tasted sort of like Butter Rum Lifesavers, but even better. It was heated by the hot plate which enhanced the flavor. The pie, ice cream & sauce along with the sizzling plate – made this a killer desert. I would drive to Branson just to have this – it was that good! Danny took my plate after I finished the pie and slurped up the rest of the sauce (he was so sad he didn’t order it!).
Cantina Laredo is a small chain of up-scale Mexican restaurants located mostly in the south – Branson is the only location in Missouri and is located in the Branson Landing shopping center overlooking the fountains. The atmosphere is definitely modern and up-scale. The prices reflect that with lowest price menu item being 2 tacos or enchiladas for $9.99.
Service was not up to the rest of the experience for us tonight. We had to ask for refills every time. We ordered 2 guacamoles and our server only prepared one – we had to ask for the second. Even though we had a party of 9, based on the prices and the look of the place, I expected better service.
I’ll be coming back to Cantina Laredo – with some exceptions the food was good and certainly much different than your typical Mexican food place in these parts. Highlights were the salsa, the carnitas, the beef fajitas – all of which were among the best we’ve ever had. Then there is that apple pie…… I want more right now!
1001 Branson Landing, Branson – (417) 334-6062