Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana, Leeds: ‘A true hidden gem’.

Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana is the ultimate destination restaurant, in my opinion. Situated on Cardigan Road, with cars racing past and a Milfords next door, the tiny, bright yellow family-run restaurant is a true hidden gem. It serves the most incredible Mexican food in Leeds (traditional family recipes from the Head Chef who was born and raised in Mexico) and it also has the friendliest staff who well and truly make you feel at home, from the moment you walk through the door. On this occasion, our waitress noticed us leafing through a programme for Hyde Park Picture House and struck up a conversation with us about what movies were on, recommending that we pay a visit to Cottage Road Cinema too. Other brief conversations throughout the afternoon included: last night’s snow and shoe sales at size?.

‘Lupe’s Cantina Mexicana is the ultimate destination restaurant’. 

Each time I’ve been to Lupe’s, it’s because I’ve been seeking the joy that food brings. It always comes at a time when good food and good flavours are needed, whether that’s to take away the stress of a bad day or to be the thing I’ve been looking forward to all week. We started our late lunch with some snacks; a basket of homemade yellow, orange, blue and green corn tortilla chips served with two salsas of the day. The chips were so light, crispy and moreish and the green salsa had a floral taste with a slow-burning spicy kick to it.

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The first to arrive out of our many dishes was a plate of Mexico City quesadillas. Corn tortilla’s stuffed with oaxaca (a Mexican cheese), cheddar cheese and epazote (a medicinal-tasting herb known as Mexican-tea), served with sour cream, salsa verde and avocado sauce. They were small pockets of stringy, cheesy goodness. Up next were the tacos ensenada – Negra Modelo beer battered fresh haddock tacos with more salsa and Mexican-style coleslaw. The haddock was silky against the sweet, crisp batter and the taco itself was quite savoury-tasting, letting all the other zingy flavours sing. The crunchy Mexican-style coleslaw must have been doused in some sort of heavenly dressing as it tasted fresh and limey and I wish all salads tasted like that.

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‘It tasted fresh and limey and I wish all salads tasted like that’. 

Then the flautas appeared – one of my favourite Mexican dishes. Crispy rolled tortillas filled with chicken tinga, with black bean hash, tomatillo salsa, sour cream and queso fresco. Yet more crispiness against the soft texture of the chicken and more cheese, more salsa and more heat. Our last dish had been a slight spontaneous choice on our behalf. Enfrijoladas – corn tortillas drowning in black beans, served with salsa verde, sour cream, queso fresco and packed with so many vegetables. It was our favourite dish and also the ultimate comfort food, making you really feel like you were restoring your body with everything it needed. There was also a yellow salsa on the side which was absolutely delicious; some kind of fruity, tequila tasting concoction that I literally smothered over everything.

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‘Corn tortillas drowning in black beans – it was our favourite dish and also the ultimate comfort food’.  

We then couldn’t leave without having dessert because Lupe’s tres leches cake is delicious. Milky and creamy with fluffy, light as air sponge and a sweet strawberry to compliment. Then, all of a sudden our meal was over – but I didn’t want it to end. I took one last look around at the bright orange and deep blue painted walls; the colourful images of the Mexican Day of the Dead Skull on all the tables and the small shrine at the back with more skulls and a statue of the Virgin Mary. I was already looking forward to coming back.

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