Mexican Restaurants Head-to-Head in Mississauga
Border MX vs Cantina Mexicana
Welcome to Restaurants Head-to-Head, a new column where we compare two restaurants in Mississauga with similar cuisines and rank them based on taste, presentation, menu, service, atmosphere and uniqueness.
Today, we're comparing two Mexican eateries in the city: Cantina Mexicana, a Streetsville staple and an old school spot that has been open for over 14 years and Border MX Mexican Grill & Cantina, the new kid on the block located in the 5 and 10 neighbourhood.
Here's the break down of the dining experience, so you can decide where to enjoy your next Mexican dining experience.
Cantina Mexicana has quite a few noteworthy dishes that punch you in the face with flavour, especially the fried seasoned tilapia tacos, which can be served on a house-made corn tortilla or a flour tortilla topped with cabbage and served with a creamy, savoury house-made chipotle salsa. The Nopales del Norte is a seasoned Mexican cactus drenched in a tasty tomatillo sauce. The black bean soup is a hearty and flavourful dish garnished with sour cream and feta cheese and the fajitas are a great go-to Mexican dish.
Border MX also brings intense flavour to the table, offering sopes - three two-bite sized handmade tortillas topped with a rich paste of refried beans and queso fresco, balanced with the freshness of pico de gallo and lettuce. The pork carnitas ooze the hours it takes to make this delectable "little meats" dish which is served in a soft tortilla and garnished with taquera sauce and an onion and cilantro salsa. The Baja fish tacos are a house specialty of Dos Equis(r) Cerveza battered fish, perfectly fried to a light and crisp outer layer and served with a house-made chipotle mayo, pico de gallo and a fresh citrus cilantro slaw.
Winner: Both restaurants prepare flavourful, house-made dishes boasting authentic flavours; however Border MX Mexican Grill & Cantina wins this one as there were no dishes we tried that were disappointing.
Cantina Mexicana's simple approach to plating dishes can be deceiving as to how tasty the food is, so don't let this fool you.
Border MX’s artful and modern plating style is the foreplay to taking that first bite and savoring the elements of every other forkful. The experience of eating is just as important to how it's presented and equally as good.
Winner: Border MX Mexican Grill & Cantina - hands down!
Cantina Mexicana offers a unique and varied selection of Mexican dishes outside of tacos, tamales, enchiladas and burritos. Colourful appetizers and main entrees include Sol Fish Ceviche (although it's listed on the menu, we were advised it is a seasonal item only offered in the summer), empanadas (stuffed bread or pastry filled with either seasoned beef or chicken), mole (chicken in a traditional Mexican sauce made with a ton of spices), pollo con rajas (tender chicken pieces in a creamy sauce with poblano peppers and corn), and chilli relleno (stuffed poblano pepper with your choice of filling and baked with cheese and your choice of sauce).
Border MX has a large selection of fun eat-with-your-hands kinds of food that can get messy, such as tacos, enchiladas, tamales, fajitas, burritos and quesadillas. Although they don't have as much of an entree variety as Cantina Mexicana, they do have a dessert menu and make fresh tamarind shakes. They are also working on a cocktail menu and Friday and Saturday nights are reserved for regional Mexican specials such as tongue tacos (self-explanatory) and pozole (a soup made of pork or chicken broth with hominy and other garnishes).
Winner: Cantina Mexicana wins for offering more variety on their regular menu.
Black Bean Soup is a hearty and flavourful dish garnished with sour cream and feta cheese.
Cantina Mexicana was not busy this particular night and there were only two tables occupied at the restaurant, including ours. The server took the time to explain dishes and the authenticity of them.
However, despite the quiet night, the food took a long time to prepare and the empty dishes were not cleared before the next dish, so we found our table crowded at times. The server had also missed a dish we had ordered and instead of taking the opportunity to appease her customer, she insisted we didn't order something we in fact did. The bitter taste this kerfuffle left in our mouths was only slightly minimized by the server's apology as we were leaving. The lack of service may be the downfall of this Streetsville staple, which may turn off new patrons who seek more than just the food.
Border MX servers were extremely attentive in explaining the menu and helping us decide on what to order. They took the time to describe each dish as it arrived and answered any questions we had about the restaurant and dish preparations. The plates were presented in a timely fashion and empty dishes were cleared immediately.
Winner: Border MX Mexican Grill & Cantina
The retro decor, wall art and vibrant colours at Cantina Mexicana have a kind of nostalgic charm and bring back memories of travelling to Mexico. It is a fairly large multi-level space that is dimly lit and scattered with flameless table candles. It seats about 50+ inside the restaurant (not including the patio) and has a fireplace tucked away in the corner and a bar as you walk in.
Border MX is a starkly lit restaurant in a much smaller space that seats about 45 tops and plays Mexican music throughout the restaurant. The back portion of the restaurant looks as though it was once a hot tray station now disguised as the chef’s prep area. The colours are warm and the simple decor is more modern than Cantina Mexicana.
Winner: Cantina Mexicana
Cantina Mexican has a gem of a patio that lines the side of the restaurant between the buildings that drowns out the street traffic and offers a wide variety of options on the menu.
Border MX Mexican Grill & Cantina offers traditional Mexican dishes and flavours creatively crafted and presented with a modern twist and service that is heartwarmingly inviting.
Winner: Cantina Mexicana
Cantina Mexicana: $3.25 to $40.00
Border MX: $3.99 to $15.99
Cantina Mexicana: Price Check Required - pricey food against quality or portion size
Border MX Mexican Grill & Cantina: Bang On - it is worth the price you pay
We are just starting to appreciate beauty of Mexican cuisine, which, oddly enough, only recently began trending in the city. Pair this with an exemplary level of service and it will be here to stay.
Border MX Mexican Grill & Cantina offers the full experience from the taste of the food to the service. Their warm and inviting approach to service and their flavour-rich dishes makes it easy to add this restaurant to my list of regular go-to spots for some fun and messy eats.
Winner: Border MX Mexican Grill & Cantina by the slightest of margins but both worth a try.
What you have to try:
Fried Seasoned Tilapia Tacos - Served on a house-made corn tortilla or a flour tortilla topped with cabbage and served with a creamy, savoury house-made chipotle salsa
Border MX Mexican Grill & Cantina:
Baja Fish Tacos - Dos Equis(r) Cerveza battered fish, served with a house-made chipotle mayo, pico de gallo and a fresh citrus cilantro slaw