by Max Brantley
You know how it goes. When a new chain restaurant hits Little Rock, it doesn't take long for a tsunami of customers to engulf the hostess station madly clamoring for electronic flashers to wait for a table.
We nipped in about two minutes ahead of a post-church herd of 20 for Sunday brunch at Cantina Laredo in Midtown, so our wait for a table was short. The upscale Tex-Mex chain offers a sleek modern setting with nary a Mexican curio affixed to any surface.
For gimmicks, here's one. It is apparently mandatory company policy for every employee to push the tableside-made guacamole. And no wonder. For $9 for a dish featuring 1 (one) avocado and a sprinkling of seasoning, the profit margin is heady. Guess what? There's no such thing as bad guacamole if you start with a ripe avocado.
Some powerfully overseasoned chilaquiles -- braised, shredded chicken and chips in chile seasoning - was offputting, but nicely presented with diced cantaloupe, mango and strawberry in a fried and sugared cup made of a flour tortilla. The house version of hash browns (sliced, skin-on new potatoes topped with bread? crumbs) was tasty, too. Our carne asada y huevos was a perfectly cooked slab of skirt steak topped with sauteed onions and peppers and a tasty herb sauce. A couple of eggs cooked to order came alongside. Brunch dishes also inclue pan dulce, slightly sweetned rolls with a sugar glaze.
The menu said a bloody mary or mimosa was included for free with brunch dishes. The Sunday booze permit is still on application. So we said, how about orange juice and a virgin Mary? Sure, the waiter said. But he charged us for them and the early-day confusion discouraged us from trying to sort the problem out.
There's a long list of premium tequilas. A daily fish special, even if pricey at $25, is a welcome addition to the usual Tex-Mex fare and some enchilada combos sounded tempting. The all important chip report: Fresh and crisp. The two sauces were distinctive and punchy, the hotter of the two served warm. Cheese dip studded with green chiles at neighboring tables was so alluring that we almost dipped a finger in, but it was Sunday.
Tab before tip for our two brunch dishes -- no sides or drinks other than the non-free free drinks -- was $37, not counting tip.
We'll have a full review in print before long.
I'll go back to CL. But given the price point, custom touches aside, I'm not sure I won't still prefer Juanita's.