Being a self proclaimed Mexican food connoisseur, I decided we couldn’t let the Charlotte Restaurant Week extravaganza pass us by without hitting up one of the most highly rated Mexican restaurants in the Charlotte area. The Prickly Pear has been voted Best Modern Mexican by Creative Loafing and is only a short drive north of Charlotte in Mooresville.
The building itself used to be a Catholic church and one of its most alluring features is the exposed rafters which originated from Portugal, are over 500 years old, and are made of an extinct wood known as Taiban.
Ella kicked off the festivities with a prickly pear margarita. It’s a pretty basic margarita with the addition of sweet and fruity prickly pear juice which brought not only a nice flavor twist but a beautiful pink color. It was a delicious start to a great night out.
Then we decided to head for the food and we checked out the chips, salsa, and chipotle queso.
The chips were pretty standard store bought mulit-colored tortilla chips and not quite anything worth noting. The queso had a very familiar Velveeta cheese texture with a little bit of a salsa mixed in. In all honesty, the best way I can describe the queso is… go to Taco Bell and order some nachos, just the chips and cheese. Then take the cheese dip and one packet of Taco Bell hot sauce and mix together… that’s near exactly what the chipotle queso at the prickly pear tastes like.
The salsa was light, fresh, and not spicy at all. The flavors were mild yet refreshing and served as a nice balance to the thicker chipotle queso.
Our first round started out with a plate of Torta de Jaiba aka panko-breaded crab cake with an avocado-tomatillo salsa.
We really liked the crab cakes and especially the avocado-tomatillo salsa drizzled over top. The cakes had a perfectly light exterior crunch, followed by a soft inner texture, and were plated with a small side of mixed greens. Ella had an issues with the inedible garnish of a dried chili pepper, but beyond that this Mexican twist on a seafood favorite was a hit.
Next came a plate of Salpicon De Carne or cold marinated beef brisket. We felt like this plate missed the mark by just a few centimeters. It was served over a small bed of lettuce but not really enough to be thought of as a salad, there were three tortilla chips included on the side but not enough to make substantial use of them, and the beef brisket itself lacked the flavors we were looking for.
It seemed like they needed to swap out the cold beef for cooked and either give us more chips or more lettuce.
Our second round kicked off with the Lomo de Cerdo, which was an adobo-rubbed pork tenderloin, shoestring fried red onions, plantain and pistachio mash, and a balsamic-ancho sauce. The pork was one of the best things we had eaten throughout the night and possibly one of the best servings of pork we’ve ever come across.
It had a faint smoky bbq flavor, was drizzled under a sea of sweet balasamic-ancho sauce, and was so soft and tender that it melted in your mouth like cotton candy! The shoestring red onions were a little more soggy and less crunchy than we had expected but the plantain and pistachio mash was so unbelievably delicious that it made us forget all about the less than stellar shoestrings. This was by far one of the best plates we’ve had at a Mexican restaurant ever, and we highly recommend that you check it out.
Next up was the Carne Asada plate with two grilled tenderloin medallions, avocado-arbol salsa, scalloped cilantro potatoes, roasted poblano strips and crema. Yet again the meat was so incredibly juicy, soft and tender that chewing was optional and every bite was eye fluttering deliciousness.
The roasted poblanos and crema over top were a little too spicy for Ella but they didn’t even register on my heat scale and I couldn’t get enough of them. The scalloped cilantro potatoes were stacked layer after of layer, and held together with a mountain of delicious cheese.
We started out the dessert round with an order of Arroz Con Leche Carmelizado aka rice pudding brulee. Unfortunately, this dish totally missed its mark. The rice was undercooked and way too chewy, and the dish lacked a significant source of creaminess.
The overall taste wasn’t bad at all and we really liked the concept. It just needed to be tweaked maybe with a small scoop of ice cream and a better rice pudding recipe.
We finished off the night on a light note with the Prickly Pear Sorbet.
The sorbet had a nice light fruity flavor with a touch of sweetness. The texture seemed more like a granita than a sorbet because it was so icy, but it was a good dessert.
Overall I would say that the Prickly Pear was pretty good. The plates were all flavorful and differed from the average cuisine that usually passes as being traditional Mexican food. We really liked the inventive use of varied ingredients and despite hitting a few hangups we liked the direction that all of the plates were going in. For me the best Mexican food still comes from the side of a food truck or the hole-in-the-wall that’s not on any top ten list. But if you’re looking to get something out of the ordinary and expand your Mexican food palate, the Prickly Pear may very well be exactly what you’re looking for :)