Restaurant review: Neon Cactus, Call Lane, Leeds

Neon Cactus.
Neon Cactus.
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Mexican food tends to be reasonably priced and the menu at Neon Cactus is no different.

All too often though the cuisine is sloppy and unexceptional, draped in too much cheese and overly hot on the palate when served outside its native land, but not so at this fine establishment.

This small but perfectly formed restaurant is atmospheric and charming with the gentle beats of world music as a backdrop and pictures of moustachioed Mexicans on the wall behind a bar where the shelves are loaded with tequila.

The drinks menu must list around 40 different varieties, although a sampling did not suit this lunchtime visitor.

It may have just been my own observational failings, but I found locating the eatery a little tricky, walking past a couple of times before catching on. Its name is plastered across a canopy above the windows but its overhanging position was enough to confuse me.

Finally walking inside, it felt very much like a bar. There were four other diners so there was a choice of tables; simple wooden affairs with cushioned metal seating. The chair I chose, it turned out, had seen better days. A rear leg buckled and I swapped it with another. The bartender apologised and removed the chair.

Once my dining partner and I settled on our choices - orange juice to drink, burritos for me and enchiladas for him - we ordered at the bar and about 15 minutes later our food was served; well presented and steaming hot.

A sucker for pulled pork, I chose swine with jalapenos for my burritos. Listed on the menu as a North Mexican lunch staple, it came wrapped with Mexican rice, crispy cabbage and onions and accompanied by a side of tortilla chips and sour cream.

The dish was delicious. The pork tasted fresh and was packed with flavour, the fillings were in well-balanced proportion to one another and the jalapenos were not too hot - for that there was a spicy sauce at hand; my advice would be apply with caution!

The sour cream was a good counter to the heat of the table sauce and with the nachos to snack on, it made for just the right portion size for lunchtime. With the orange juice served by the pint, the meal was excellent value at £8.70.

The chicken enchiladas were similarly good value, coming to £9.05 with orange juice. Oven baked, it was served with adobo sauce, spicy rice, peppers and melted cheese. The soft concoction was not ruined by too much cheese, and my dining partner praised its taste. He too was impressed by the quality of the meat and the balanced flavours.

All in all, it is hard to fault Neon Cactus. The service was prompt, well-mannered and friendly, the food excellently priced and balanced in flavour and the atmosphere relaxed, informal and cosy.

The only faults I could find were the unstable chair leg and a candle holder on the table which rattled as we tucked into our food - hardly enough to merit criticism and I wouldn’t think twice about a return or recommending the place to a friend.

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