Rebecca Shapiro delves past sombreros and refried beans to find a cosy Mexican marvel that surpasses any stereotype…
Walking down Otley Road, it is not difficult to feel overwhelmed by the countless pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants on offer. Nestled modestly in the midst of Headingley, opposite Subway and close to Sainsburys, Caliente Café can only be described as a hidden gem. What the small Mexican lacks in terms of size is more than made up for by the genuine quality of its food.
With starters averaging £5 and mains of around £10, the restaurant is more of a special treat than a weekly haunt for cash-strapped students. But for a date night, or to show visiting relatives that students can in fact socialise without alcohol, it fits the bill perfectly.
My recent experience there, on an unusually civilised evening with the boyfriend, left me desperately sad that I was unable even to finish my main course. Take note: the portions sizes are very generous. However, the food was delicious. The mushroom flambé with garlic toast was a highlight of the starters. And the mains menu consisted of what you’d expect from a Mexican restaurant: a varied selection of enchiladas, burritos and tacos. But these were cooked to perfection. The pomegranates sprinkled over my beef enchilada were a pleasing example of the expertise and careful preparation evident in all the food. There was an abundance of vegetarian options too, for the less carnivorous amongst us. I’ll definitely be returning, although with elasticated trousers in tow.
Aside from the food, the service could not be faulted. The staff were friendly and helpful. It was a mild annoyance not to be able to pay by card, but as the quality over-shone that of any other Mexican chains I know of, so I forgave the café.
More importantly, the ambiance of the restaurant is gloriously un-rushed. Cosy, painted red, and covered in tiny lights, the café truly transports you away from the bustling main road and into an oasis of calm. Perhaps this sounds a little like an exaggeration, but it is refreshing to feel removed from the manic student bubble once in a while. With a two course meal for two coming to under £30, Caliente Café is certainly good value if an mouth-watering and relaxing meal out is what you are after.
53 Otley Road
0113 274 9841