Impressive twist to fast food at Taqado Mexican Kitchen

Sometimes it's not such a bad idea to eat in a shopping mall, as evidenced by Taqado Mexican Kitchen.

Taqado Mexican Kitchen in Mall of the Emirates. Antonie Robertson / The National)
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I don’t often eat in shopping malls; in fact, I try to avoid it. After hearing plenty of positive chatter about Taqado Mexican Kitchen and witnessing its enthusiastic marketing campaign – which involved giving away free burritos – I decided to give it a whirl last week.

Set among myriad fast-food options in Mall of the Emirates, Taqado stands out. The branding is bold and modern with white walls, a distressed wood counter front, brightly coloured lettering, glass bottles dangling from the ceiling and baskets with fresh tomatoes and peppers on display. In terms of design, it’s very Jamie Oliver-esque.

The ordering system is smart and simple. The menu has been split into three “steps” (four if you count the side orders and you certainly should, given the excellent guacamole), and the food is put together as you watch. First, select your meal (essentially the vehicle for the fillings, which is step two); there are burritos and fajitas, tacos, a burrito box (low carb, minus the flour tortilla), chilli con carne, a salad (which you can top with meat, cheese etc) and a classic Mexican chicken soup.

For the fillings, you’re given a choice of shredded chargrilled chicken, flank steak, pulled beef or guacamole. And this is where Taqado Mexican Kitchen sets itself apart: the meat for the barbacoa is grass-fed beef from New Zealand and the chicken is free-range – claims that not many fast-food operations can make. It also serves organic, locally roasted RAW coffee.

Finally, when it comes to toppings, there are two types of rice – lime and cilantro or a Spanish version flavoured with chilli and cumin, slow-cooked black beans or white pinto beans and three salsas with varying degrees of heat. You can finish all that with either sour cream or grated Monterey Jack cheese.

I tried the fajita – a flour tortilla, different to the burrito only in that it comes with sautéed onions and peppers, rather than beans – filled it with pulled beef (marinated overnight and cooked for eight hours) and added lime rice, medium spicy salsa verde and sour cream. Although nice, it was a huge portion; too big, in truth. I say that because the slightly overdone rice added so much bulk to the wrap that the taste and texture of the beef was lost a little and the tortilla quickly became soggy. Nevertheless, it was certainly tasty, with the onions and tomatoes adding a pleasant smokiness.

It was the little pot of guacamole (Dh4) that I’d ordered on the side along with a bag of tortilla chips that really impressed me, through. The dip was chunky, creamy and zingy with lime and had clearly been made very recently.

My friend ordered the tacos which, it must be said, looked like a light snack in comparison to my fajita. They could have done with either being filled with more meat or perhaps a spoonful of beans or rice, as with the burrito and fajitas. The shells were crisp, though, and the chicken strips had picked up plenty of flavour from the chargrill; a sprinkling of hot salsa, made from cherry tomatoes and chipotle, had a proper kick to it and looked and tasted freshly prepared.

We ended on a sugary high, with a portion of churros, which were fried to order. They arrived hot, crisp and dusted with cinnamon and sugar on the outside, light and fluffy in the centre. A pot of liquid chocolate accompanied them for which we were very happy indeed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is still a fast-food restaurant: there are no plates or cutlery and you’re likely to finish eating in under 15 minutes. But you get the impression that real thought has gone into this venture and the unique design, use of fresh ingredients and knowledgeable staff mean that for me, at least, it is a cut above many other food-court dining spots.

• A meal for two at Taqado Mexican Kitchen, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, costs Dh91. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito