You have to wonder how many Mexican restaurants a city the size of Madison can support. Despite the stagnation and failures in other segments of the industry, competition continues to enter the ring.
Fiesta Cancun is among the city’s newer Mexican dining spots, and there are many reasons to expect it to do well.
It’s a comfortable, attractive sit-down restaurant. Prices are reasonable. The food is better than average. Service is fast. And it’s on a main thoroughfare.
The name may be forgettable, and it’s in a strip mall, but the festive-yet-cozy interior, soft lighting and delicious margaritas make it an appealing alternative to the city’s many fluorescent-lit taquerias that serve comparable Mexican food at much lower prices.
The menu is huge and ranges from the tacos, enchiladas and burritos found everywhere to more ambitious specials and a dizzying number of combo plates.
One example of uniqueness: I can’t remember seeing a mushroom quesadilla ($3) on a menu before, and it was a welcome surprise, with its molten filling of pungent mushrooms and cheese.
The El Paso ($6.75) pays homage to the burrito and its Mexican-American origins with one burrito stuffed with lots of tender pulled chicken and cheese, and one spicy chicken enchilada, both of them topped abundantly with cheese and served with smooth refried pinto beans, topped with still more melted cheese, and rice.
Strips of chicken, which makes many appearances on the menu, is used in the mole ranchera ($7.50), with a chocolate mole that’s a bit too thin and timid.
The Fiesta Cancun Special (single order $11.99, double order $21) was the most successful dish we tasted.
It’s a mixture of shrimp, beef, chicken and spicy chorizo sautéed with onions, tomatoes and bell peppers.
Everything was perfectly cooked, and the many flavors and textures were thoroughly melded.
It was served with a tangy guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, lettuce, rice, and warm, fresh-tasting flour tortillas. It was a single order, but easily big enough to feed two hungry people.
Tacos de carne asada ($7.75) was three soft flour tortillas, each topped with a big mound of sliced steak that had a pleasant smoky flavor, though it wasn’t particularly tender, and served with rice, refried beans and pico de gallo.
Although the cover of the menu claims Fiesta Cancun is an “authentic Mexican restaurant,” and it does have many traditional Mexican items, it also makes some wild leaps into gringo terrain: pork chops with french fries and garlic bread? A children’s menu with chicken nuggets and corn dogs?
But these days, when Mexican restaurants opening around what seems like every corner, culinary purity might not seem all that important.