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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Maria's: Quality Mexican Dishes in Heliopolis
Located in Fairmont Heliopolis, Maria’s received rave reviews when we visited it last. Since we always like to go back and make sure venues still earn their stars, we made our way over to the bright orange eatery, rumbling stomachs in check.
Maria’s is an open-space and part of what one companion described as the hotel’s ‘fancy food court’. The interior is a bright orange with minimal decorations; taking a seat on the elevated section of the restaurant, we concentrated on the task at hand: to eat as much Mexican food as we can.
You're started off with homemade tortilla chips served with a spicy salsa. The chips were crunchy and fresh, so much so we asked for more than one refill. Ordering some cocktails and guacamole (65LE), we intently studied the menu, trying to choose from a variety of dishes.
The Tequila Comfort (95LE) was delicious with a soft, well rounded flavour, while the traditional margarita (95LE) was tart and came with a heap of icy yumminess. The Rainforest cocktail (95LE) was just as pleasing and had a mellow strawberry flavour. The guacamole was prepared in front of us and we were asked specifics on how spicy we’d prefer it. With the perfectly crunchy tortilla chips, the chunky dip was quickly eaten up and we could have easily had some more.
We ordered quesadillas with beef (125LE) and the ceviche dish Aguachile Mazatlan (90LE), consisting of shrimp in a green chilli and lime sauce. The quesadillas came on a plate with sour cream, guacamole and chopped tomatoes on the side and were absolutely divine. The meat was succulent and tender, full of flavour and the tortilla wrap had the right consistency where it was neither too thick and dough like, nor too thin and flimsy. The shrimp were also good but you may be a little disappointed with the lack of variety within the dish - which contained shrimps sliced in half and a few cucumber shreds - considering the grandness of some of the other dishes. While the flavour was pleasing, we did find a vein that had not been properly cleaned out.
The main courses we chose were the burrito with grilled rib eye steak (160LE) which came stuffed with Mexican rice, re-fried beans and lettuce and - supposedly - covered in tomatillo sauce and melted cheese. We also ordered the Flautas de Borrego (160LE); slow roasted lamb with avocado and banana leaf flutes. The burrito tasted very similar to the quesadillas only more difficult to eat and with less juice. There was no sauce or cheese covering it as promised either. The lamb came wrapped in quite literal flute shapes and was a bit too salty and overall on the heavy side. The dish came with a highly spicy tomatillo sauce but it didn’t help alleviate how dry it was.
We chose the quesadillas for dessert (55LE), which come with chocolate, peanuts and banana in a cinnamon sugar sprinkled tortilla. With a side of ice cream, the quesadilla was warm, gooey and slightly crisp at the same time. The cold ice cream complementing the otherwise heated dish very well.
Maria’s is a very lighthearted restaurant. The mood is easygoing and considerably casual considering its location. The service deserves special acknowledgment, because our hostess was delightful without crossing that thin line of being intrusive. The rest of the staff were also especially pleasant, offering smiles and good service throughout.
Residents of Heliopolis should count their blessings. But for more centrally, or westerly located Cairenes, is it worth trekking to Heliopolis just for a meal at Maria’s? With the state of traffic these days, perhaps not. However, we would be very excited should our paths be sent in that direction, even if it’s for their cocktails and guacamole alone.
Recently opened, Lettuceat in Zamalek is already proving itself to be a real contender in the realm of healthy eating in Cairo. Banishing the notions of bland salads, Lettuceat aims to combine succulent meats to fresh greens and delectable vinaigrettes, creating masterpiece meals from fresh ingredients.
The small restaurant’s sparkling glass front shows off the white, sterile interior while a single dining table invites patrons to eat in –although take-away or delivery may be the preferred option.
An open-fronted refrigerator shows off Lettuceat’s own brand of healthy spreads, ready-mixed vinaigrettes (15LE-22LE) and fresh, sweetened juices. Perfect as either dips or sandwich spreads, the potted flavours include tomato bruscetta (20LE), tuna paste (30LE), foie de volaille – or chicken liver pate (35LE) - baba ghanouj (20LE) and more. A range of unusual fresh loaves of bread are also available; from standard white French baguettes to multigrain loaves (8LE-11LE) as well as different types of olive bread (3.5LE-13LE).
Using fresh ingredients, the juices include strawberry, mango, guava and orange (8LE-8.5LE). We went for one bottle of strawberry and one guava juice, both of which were delicious, perfectly sweetened and sporting real fruit pieces without the drink being too thick.
The menu is a colourful representation of their exotic salad dishes. As well as an ‘authentic’ Greek Salad and both chicken and shrimp variations of the Caesar salad (46LE-54LE) there are also some more unusual concoctions, such as the smoked duck treat (57LE) and a 'rich tuna' Nicoise (52LE). They even offer a pasta salad –Italy's Finest (38LE).
After much deliberation, we opted for one Delish Tuscan (49LE) – a salad of watercress, cherry tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, parmesan and cashews, topped with balsamic dressing. We also chose a tomato, cucumber and lettuce based Mexican Delight (49LE); a tropical-sounding mixture of marinated grilled chicken, carrot, onion, sweet corn, red kidney beans, cheddar cheese and red peppers with a zesty ‘Mehico’ dressing.
Expecting a small side-dish of sorts, we were pleasantly surprised at the generously sized salads we were presented with moments later. Each one was presented with a personal sized loaf of flavourful, wholemeal bread which were crispy and covered with seeds on the outside but brilliantly soft on the inside. The Delish Tuscan was served with a side of crispy croutons whilst the Mexican Delight came with a small handful of crunchy tortilla chips.
As Lettuceat’s slogan suggests; both our salads were fresh and ‘delish’. The interesting choice of ingredients complimented one another perfectly and presented a palette of different flavours whilst the vinaigrettes remained delicious but subtle, so as not to overpower the salads themselves. The balsamico dressing was a perfect blend of oil and vinegar, seasoned with a small amount of herbs and although we couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was in the ‘Zesty Mehico’ dressing, it was surprisingly sweet and tangy, just as it’s name inferred. The sliced chicken chunks in the Mexican salad were generous, well-sized, moist and excellently cooked; delicately flavoured by the tikka-style marinade.
Not wanting to ruin our healthy meal, we had difficulty not ordering one of their delicious-looking pavlovas (21LE) or smooth granola desire (25LE) complete with fresh fruit, yoghurt and granola. If their salads were anything to go by, we’d dare to suggest that either of these desserts would be equally as - if not more - scrumptious.