Sitting down for a meal at Fiesta MX in downtown Ottawa is a five-sense experience.
The hissing sizzle as a server carries a skillet of fajitas past the table. The steaming wafts of meats, fresh vegetables and sauces. Glimpses of mouthwatering dishes passing from kitchen to other diners’ tables. The tender texture of a perfectly cooked steak in a smooth ranchero sauce.
And then there’s the flavor. Oh, the flavor.
Fiesta MX is the kind of restaurant that makes you hungry as soon as you walk through the door. During our most recent visit, my spouse mentioned having only a moderate appetite as we strolled along Madison Street, but by the end of the meal, my spouse was the one suggesting we order dessert.
Like many Mexican restaurants, Fiesta MX brings chips and salsa to the table to whet the appetite while people browse the menu. I rarely examine the menu there because I notoriously order one of two meals: either the grilled chicken fajitas with grilled peppers and onions ($13.99), or the Parillada Fiesta for two, which features steak, chicken, chorizo, grilled peppers and onions ($28.99).
On this occasion, I planned to step out of my comfort zone. Because both of my staple orders are always good, I figured other menu items would be equally crave-worthy, and decided to try something new.
Despite the many times we’ve dined at Fiesta MX, I had never ordered a drink from its bar. This time I treated myself to a strawberry margarita. I can be picky about the balance of flavors in mixed drinks – I don’t like the alcohol to overpower it – but the margarita was just right. A kick of tequila was present, but the sweetness of the fruit flavor carried the drink.
As an entree, I ordered Gallina en Mole – strips of grilled chicken breast smothered in mole sauce ($12.99) – and a pork tamale with red sauce ($2.69) on the side. My spouse ordered the Bisteck Ranchero, featuring a steak in ranchero sauce ($15.99). All entrees come with rice and beans, and both of our main courses came with a choice of corn or flour tortillas on the side.
The mole sauce on my entree was fantastic – so much so, in fact, that I swiped the spoon from the salsa bowl to pour extra scoops of it into the tortillas.
My Gallina en Mole didn’t last long enough for my spouse to try a bite (hey, you snooze, you lose), but I was offered a bite of the Bisteck Ranchero. The tenderness of the steak paired with the flavor of the ranchero sauce deserves a kiss for the chef.
Then there was the tamale. It’s no surprise the restaurant gets this Mesoamerican staple right. At Fiesta MX, diners will unwrap the corn husk to find a moist tamale with just the right amount of filling.
As the entree dishes were cleared away, my spouse (whose appetite apparently expanded throughout the meal) asked if I wanted a dessert. I agreed to share one, and we ordered the nieve frita (fried ice cream, $3.99). The breaded and deep-fried ball of vanilla ice cream was drizzled in chocolate syrup and surrounded by whipped cream.
Before dessert arrived, I wasn’t sure I had enough room for more than a spoonful. After the first bite, I couldn’t resist five or six more.
That’s the way it is at Fiesta MX. One bite – and one visit – are never enough.
• The Mystery Diner is an employee at Shaw Media. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a different restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Fiesta MX
WHERE: 221 W. Madison St., Ottawa