Cantina Laredo Tasting (Wesley Chapel)

Full disclosure: I was invited to Cantina Laredo for a tasting of their new menu items. My meal was provided at no charge in exchange for my opinion so please keep that in mind. Opinions are my own and do not represent the views of Cantina Laredo.

I recently visited Cantina Laredo at The Shops at Wiregrass for a tasting of their menu. The restaurant has been in the Wiregrass mall for a few years and serves what I would call contemporary Mexican cuisine. It isn’t traditional Mexican cooking, but a gourmet and modern take on it with various Mexican inspirations spread throughout.

We had the most excellent server in the house and her name was Rosie if you want to flag her down for your meal. She works most days and was completely hospitable, relate-able, and had a full understanding of the menu – easily able to make any recommendation or to answer any questions. I’d recommend her as a server.

The tasting began with appetizers.

The Ceviche ($10.49) features marinated fish and shrimp drenched in lime juice and Cholula with avocado and is gluten-free. Personally, I felt the portion for the appetizer could be larger considering that it is meant to be shared but the overall flavors were very good. Everything tasted fresh.

The Ahi Tuna Tacos ($10.29) came next and were also enjoyable, but also quite small for the price. Tuna appetizers are usually on the lighter side anyway so it wasn’t that surprising. The tacos would be a great snack with a drink if you’re not too hungry.

Both soups: Sopa de Tortilla and Arroz Con Pollo were both delicious and affordable at $4.99 a cup and $7.29 a bowl and I would recommend both soups. Mexican and Spanish soups in general when made right are really great meals and enjoyable.

One of the more popular things on the menu at Cantina Laredo is their freshly-made guacamole which I had with their queso appetizer ($9.49) and thoroughly enjoyed.

The guacamole is made table-side and uses Haas Avocados (as all guacamole should), jalapeno, tomato, red onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Queso fresco is added for this appetizer and is one of my favorite cheeses as a transplant from California.

We tasted a few cocktails during our visit and the one I will recommend you order is their Strawberry Mint Margarita ($12). That was delicious and all their margaritas packed a punch (you’ve been warned).

Moving on to entrees.

My two favorite things we tried were the Cascabel Ribeye ($29.99) and Camaron Poblano Asada ($24.99). The steak at the restaurant is clearly top-notch from the juiciness of the ribeye and the tenderness of the asada.

I get a little skiddish about ordering Carne Asada in Mexican restaurants nowadays because many of them have tough skirt steak that isn’t flavorful enough. Not a problem at all with the steaks I tried at Cantina Laredo.

The ribeye was completely juicy and definitely better than I have had at numerous restaurants around Tampa Bay. The bone-in ribeye is dry-aged for 21 days and brushed with a Cascabel sauce that I recommend on the side. It was a tasty sauce – but not one I would want to be drenched over my ribeye. I need to taste the juicy parts in my mouth by themselves – this steak needed no sauce and certainly no ketchup. 😉

There is nothing worse than ordering a steak and being disappointed and I will order the steak again in the future at Cantina Laredo after my positive experience.

I ordered the Acapulco Combination as my entree ($13.99). The tamale was delicious and tasted authentic and flavorful. I gobbled it up. The enchiladas were also enjoyable – although the sour cream sauce was better than the cheese enchilada and I would prefer two sour cream sauce enchiladas in the future.

I felt the crispy beef taco tasted decent, but needed more flavor – this could be solved by adding some sauce inside and some sour cream. I make crunchy tacos at home all the time and its easy to make them taste better – but you have to add more than just meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Sour cream is normally a game changer when this happens.

The rice and refried beans were both tasty with the entree.

For a lower price-point, the combinations make sense – but I definitely would long for the ribeye and asadas in the future.

The tasting then concluded with a wide-range of desserts including Mango Tres Leches ($7.29), Mexican Apple Pie ($7.29), and a Mexican Brownie ($7.29).

The Mango Tres Leches was tart and I am used to enjoying my tres leches soaked all the way in. For me it wasn’t my favorite, but the rest of my party loved it so it may depend on your taste.

The Mexican Apple Pie was excellent to me and had cinnamon ice cream on top that made it quite delicious. The Mexican Brownie was sizzling goodness – perfect for someone with a strong sweet tooth.

Overall, the menu has changed quite a bit at Cantina Laredo over these past few years and these new additions seem to be suggesting major changes within the menu. I like the experimentation and thought there were plenty of interesting flavors to try. Definitely different visits could yield different results depending on who you dine with and what they are looking for.

The new fajitas seem to be taking over every Mexican restaurant menu lately and I didn’t try them so that might be something for the future.

One interesting thing that I did not know is that Cantina Laredo features Happy Hour in the bar from Monday to Friday from 4PM-7PM and 9PM to closing as well as Saturday from 11AM-5PM. House margaritas are $5 during this time and appetizers are half-off. Domestic beers are $2, imported beers are $3, and well-drinks and house wines are $4 – which explains why every time my parents go shopping at Wiregrass they always end up drinking at Cantina Laredo.

I’d recommend giving Cantina Laredo a look if you’re in the Wesley Chapel area – they also have specials on Taco Tuesday with discounts on tacos and beer.

Restaurant name: Cantina Laredo

Neighborhood: Wesley Chapel

Cuisine: Mexican

Address: 2000 Piazza Avenue, Wesley Chapel, FL 33543

Phone Number: (813) 907-3068

Website: http://www.cantinalaredo.com/location/tampa-florida/

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Yamato Japanese Steakhouse

My friend recently treated me to dinner at Yamato Japanese Steakhouse in the Wiregrass Mall. I have been to their bar before (more on that soon), but have never had their Teppanyaki before. We arrived pretty late during a weeknight so the place wasn’t too busy. There was one other group sitting with us who were friendly. I’ve never sat with another party during a visit to a Japanese steakhouse so I thought it might be awkward, but we actually had a good time conversing with the other party at the table.

My friend went ahead and ordered my favorite drink I regularly have at this restaurant for me. It’s called a Blue Samurai and it tastes like pineapple juice, but it packs quite a punch. The taste is smooth and it’s easy to slurp it down (though the drink will hit you fast so beware). Japanese steakhouses always have these innovative tasty mixed drinks (it’s one of my favorite things about them) and Yamato is no different. Although I was missing the usual umbrella Benihana gives.

We were given a free sushi roll on the house. Shrimp on the outside and imitation crab with crunchy breading on the inside and a little mayo on top. The shrimp tasted fresh, normally I would prefer fried shrimp, however the shrimp delivered a solid taste and the crab and crunchy breading inside made it even better. A nice start to our meal, indeed. I decided to order their Steak and Calamari ($17) from their Teppanyaki menu and we also ordered some sushi and sashimi.

The soup came out first. The soup had an onion taste to it, but wasn’t powdery. It tasted good, but I couldn’t detect what about it made it taste good. It wasn’t heavy (like miso soup sometimes is) and still left plenty of room for the feast we were about to have.

The ginger salad or house salad left plenty to be desired. I will agree with other critics that the sauce has too much liquid. A ginger salad is better when the ginger is freshly added on such as how it is made at Sushi Ninja in Riverview.

This had to be the most interesting thing we ate that night. Bacon Scallions. It doesn’t sound quite appetizing, but it was pretty tasty. I continue to be shocked by all the wonderful ways bacon can be consumed. Chocolate Sunday’s chocolate and bacon is still my favorite.

Our Teppanyaki chef was attentive to our group and made our meal in a timely manner. He did a few tricks, such as the spinning egg and also the smoking onion volcano. There was also a big flame moment, which reminded me of Arigato Steakhouse (which used to be on North Dale Mabry). I’d say Kobe Ichiban in Brandon is probably my best experience with an entertaining and humorous chef, but Yamato was not far behind. It far outdid my experience last summer at Benihana in Orlando where the chef couldn’t do barely any moves and left my party feeling completely disappointed.

A very popular Teppanyaki chef trick. The smoking onion volcano.

The best part of our meal was interestingly enough the sashimi. I don’t expect sushi or sashimi to be high-quality in a Japanese steakhouse and our decision to order was merely an attempt to sample what they had. We ordered a Sashimi Platter and also Mackerel Nigiri. Mackerel has to be one of the fish I am most picky about. Either it is fantastic or downright disgusting. The mackerel at Yamato was amazing. I could have ten or twenty of them. All the sashimi was fresh and the salmon hit my taste buds in all the right places. Each bite of sashimi was savory and I almost forgot to pay attention to the teppanyaki as I bathed in the fish.

We also had some a California Roll and Salmon Roll. The California Roll was excellent, the crab was great and there was plenty of avocado and masago. The masago tasted very fresh and I had  to snap a photo of it to share with my readers. I was really impressed with how well the California Roll was made, it was clear the chef took some time to make it right. The Salmon Roll was just as great as the salmon sashimi, though I’d probably add some avocado to it next time.

The rice was appetizing and full of flavor. I am normally not too much of a rice consumer, but this rice tasted great and I finished most of it before I even was served my steak or calamari. I was really surprised with the amount of flavor in Yamato’s teppanyaki food. In my prior experiences to Japanese steakhouses the food has been regrettably bland and I constantly need to drench my food in the sauces provided to make my food have flavor, but Yamato actually had a natural flavor in their food. The steak, calamari, noodles, vegetables, and rice were all enjoyable and dipping them in sauce was less of a chore to make it taste good, but just something I sporadically did to test the difference tastes I could make with the food. It was this attention to flavor that truly made me enjoy Yamato as a Japanese steakhouse and make it a place that I would recommend others try as well.

Yamato Japanese Steak House on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Yamato Japanese Steakhouse

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 28211 Paseo Drive, Suite 100 Wesley Chapel, FL 33543

Neighborhood: New Tampa

Phone Number: (813) 907-8701