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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dining Out in Dubai

Dining Out in Dubai
by Stephanie McCreary

Dubai is a metropolis in the heart of Arabia, famous for skyscrapers built on the cutting edge of ultramodern architecture, camels, five star resort hotels, and sand dunes. And here I am on vacation in this city on the Arabian peninsula, madly craving food from a country that is almost 9,000 miles away: Mexico. So is there any hope at all of finding an authentic restaurant that serves the cuisine that hails from south of the border of the United States? Anything is possible, right? I flip open my guidebook and find what I’m looking for.

Maria Bonita’s Taco Shop is Dubai’s only Mexican restaurant. After a fast fifteen minute cab ride from my hotel in Bur Dubai, I get to the Jumeirah 3 district, where the restaurant is located. The name Maria Bonita curves across the top of an archway in warm shades of yellow and red. A fiery flower and a blue lizard call the warm and languorous locales of southern Mexico to mind. The high-pitched squawk of two green parrots perched contentedly inside a blue wire cage compliment the exotic atmosphere while patrons munch on tortilla chips and drink margaritas in the cool winter weather. The brightly colored entrance beckons me to have a seat and take a bite of what looks like a little piece of Mexico in the middle of Arabia. There are wooden chairs painted blue, yellow, and red and the green leafy plants hanging above my head take me back to a little coffee shop in Guanajuato, Mexico, where I sipped coffee at an outdoor cafĂ©. I am intrigued and more than a little bit curious to see if they can pull this off.


The waiter comes swiftly over to my table and sets a basket of chips and salsa before me. I ask him if I have to pay for them and he tells me that they are free. I’m delighted because some restaurants in this region charge for items like bread and chips, so this is feeling authentic already.   As I bite into one of the crisp, buttery, salted chips, I glimpse into a window of the surreal. The call to prayer sounds from the minaret of the mosque across the street as my Indian waiter asks me if I need anything else. The parrots squawk simultaneously from their cage, conjuring up an image of a jungle as I dip my chips into two kinds of salsa: a picante with cilantro and onion and another made of grilled red chili peppers, tomato, and fresh ground pepper. The flavors are deep, smoky, and spicy and take me to a place far from Islam, minarets, and India.


I order a small portion of guacamole to go with the chips just to splurge. Hey, when am I going to have the opportunity to eat Mexican again? I gorge myself on the smooth, green dip. It has just the right amount of limejuice, a touch of onion and cilantro and the diced tomatoes give it a pleasing splash of color. I am nearly satisfied by the time I order my main course but I just keep rolling along. The unpretentious menu offers entrees like jumbo quesadillas, fajitas nortenas, tamales, flautas, and burritos, which the restaurant is famous for. I order the Tamales Estilo Mexico, which are tamales with chicken and red sauce. I have horchata to drink. A trio of tamales arrives at my table a short time later, flanked by a small mound of rice and refried beans, all sprinkled with white Mexican cheese. The tamales are thinner than traditional Mexican tamales, and they sit on top of the cornhusks instead of wrapped inside of them. I try a piece and find the corn masa too sweet for a savory tamale and just a little bit dry. Dipping it into the mild red sauce moistens it and renders it more familiar to my palate and I discover tender, pulled chicken inside. The cheese is a nice compliment, adding tang and richness. Overall, it’s a dish that is neither too mild nor too spicy, but one that could have been a little more filling.


I sip the last of the horchata as I finish the tamales. It is not made from the tiger nut like the original version from Valencia, Spain but rather almonds, cinnamon, milk, and rice milk, true to the authentic Mexican recipe. It has a pleasant, creamy sweetness, but the texture is more grainy than smooth. Maria Bonita’s menu offers desserts like tres leches cake and chocolate cake, as well as bunuelos, sweet tortilla chips with sugar and cinnamon. Entrees range from 45-64 AED (Emirati Dirhams).  If you find yourself in Dubai craving Mexican food, Maria Bonita’s Taco Shop and Grill, while not one hundred percent authentic, should more than satisfy your taste for the spice, color, and excitement of Mexican cuisine. 

Maria Bonita’s Taco Shop and Grill
Jumeira 3, Dubai, UAE
Catering, takeaway, and delivery: 04 395 555 76
Hours: 12pm-11pm everyday


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    1. Sounds appetizing! How were their vegan options? Though I'm not usually interested in Dubai, your review makes a visit seem worthwhile. Thanks! :)

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