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Cancun Mexican Restaurant

Madison WI

714 s whitney way, madison WI 53711
mon-fri 11am-10pm, sat 9:30am-11pm, sun 9:30am-10pm

Cancun Mexican Restaurant - taco review

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Rating: 85
Price: $$$$

In the midst of a rather lengthy project one Sunday (constructing a bicycle-mounted canoe trailer), I was struck by a craving for some tacos. Fortunately, this was not one of those 'sudden cravings' we so often hear tell of by the iPod generation, but a craving that had been planned out several days in advance to coincide with the acquisition of tacos. Official West Side Business Associates Doug & Danielle met me across the street from a Casual Male XL on Madison's extreme west side, near the Beltline. This particular intersection was chosen because once, en route to a taco shop even further west, I waited briefly for erstwhile business associate Erin to pick me up from this parking lot. Throughout the duration of my wait, I enjoyed the scent of Mexican food wafting in on the breeze, and the sight of cars driving by on Odana Rd.

Well, that taco place turned out to be named Cancun, and our expeditionary crew breached its seemingly-impenetrable walls one Sunday evening. Cancun's decor is surprising, insomuch as that it contrasts significantly with the exterior. The exterior looks like a fairly classic strip mall, with a few neon Corona signs hanging in the window; the interior, however, is 'miles away from ordinary'. The seating arrangement inside is pointedly non-orthogonal - booths are delineated by archways and central tables are arranged around a large circular decorative feature. The tables and booths have flowery designs, and even the (admittedly rectangular) roofing tiles are cool. Clay, made in Leon Mexico (note: Leon is part of Guanajuato, which has treated us quite well in both Madison and Milwaukee). As Cancun has an ordinary roof visible from the exterior, these tiles are clearly only decorative, but that sort of effort does not go unnoticed by the Aesthetic Judging Committee.

After some deliberation, I ordered a large frozen margarita. At 'half-price', this came to $4, which seemed like a reasonable price - fortunately, one of Cancun's gimmicks appears to be a 24/7 Half-Price Margarita deal, which is sustainable only because the normal prices are so excessive. The margarita was weak as they so often are in strip malls, but frozen and limey, so satisfying. During this interval, we discussed progress on the hitch part of my project, and made significant progress. We also progressed quite rapidly through two bins of chips and salsa. The salsa wasn't fairly weak (as they so often are in strip malls) but the flavor and consistency was quite good. It was a fairly classic tomato-based salsa but tasted fresh, and was blended to that perfect middle ground between chunky and pureed. The chips themselves were pleasantly warm, but almost completely lacked salt (fortunately, Cancun provided us with a shaker full of salt to apply our own) and were a bit thicker than I like.

Between the group of us, we ordered 3 Cancun tacos, 3 huitlacoche tacos, and a veggie quesadilla. Business associate Doug and I executed a taco-trade, so I ended up consuming 2 Cancun tacos and 1 huitlacoche. The Cancun taco is made up of 5 parts grilled swordfish to 1 part onion and 2 parts cilantro (by surface area, not volume), and is wrapped in a flour tortilla. On the side was a tomatillo salsa, some refried black beans, a bit of fiesta rice, and some limes. I started with the Cancun tacos. The swordfish was tender and chewy. I've never been the hugest fish fan, though it has on several occasions proven to be quite delicious; these tacos struck the middle ground somewhere. They were mild but with a noticeable fish-flavor. One interesting characteristic of fish is an ability to absorb more lime juice than other meats, and these were no exception - after a quick once-over with the lime, it became the dominant flavor. Maybe because swordfish are always swimming, it pays off to allow liquids to easily exchange through their flesh?

The huitlacoche was a similar experience - it was sauteed to a paste-y consistency. Huitlacoche is known in the USA by the rather humorous name 'corn smut', and is a fungus that grows on ears of corn. It can be fairly gross-looking in the field, but is fairly appetizing when on a taco. The huitlacoche tasted a lot like a normal mushroom. Some people love them, I personally find them fairly flavorless and of an unappealing texture. The huitlacoche was wrapped in double corn tortillas, which were non-greasy but a bit dry, and served with the same sides as the Cancun tacos. On the whole, our trip to Cancun provided us with several serviceably enjoyable tacos, but nothing to send a telegram to one's mother about. Certainly, a better place to hang out than the Casual Male XL parking lot, if for nothing else than the decor.

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