Eat the flan first?
 It’s all good at Cancun

I’ve never had all that much of a sweet tooth. When it comes to the flan at Cancun Mexican Restaurant, though, that’s a whole ‘nother story: I might even eat dessert first.

Yes, it’s that good.

Cancun, an early 2017 arrival, has developed a good following for its food and service and, no doubt, for the tequila drinks and happy-hour offerings in its long, inviting bar. Bright habanero-orange walls, high-backed booths and wood-look tables fill the long, narrow dining room, with bright sombreros and a colorful wall mural depicting palm trees on a sunny Cancun beach. A large screen was tuned to Spanish-language television.

The eight-page menu offers the usual Mexican-restaurant options in abundance. Affordable pricing puts Cancun squarely into the category of good cheap eats, with a collection of 35 dinner specials under $10 and two dozen lunch specials from $6.99 to $9.99. Only a few fancy seafood dinners break into double digits, and they top out at $15.99 (for the Del Mar trio of lobster, tilapia and shrimp).

Mary, my sister Amy and I enjoyed a satisfying lunch the other day, starting with good quality chips and zippy salsas and ending with that memorable flan.

In between, we enjoyed a particularly well-made tortilla soup ($3.99 for a cup, $7.99 for a bowl). It started with a classic, clear chicken broth infused with bits of tomato and green chilies and onions, loaded with shredded white-meat chicken and wedges of avocado, with plenty of room left in the bowl to drop in crisply fried tortilla strips and squeeze in a squirt or two of fresh lime.

An oversize tamale ($6.99) was good but idiosyncratic. The corn husk wrapper had been removed in the kitchen, leaving a fat masa cylinder marked with its imprint, and filled with savory shredded pork. A generous portion of ground beef taco meat was spooned over one end with a dollop of hot-and-spicy red chile sauce and shredded white cheese.

A veggie fajita plate ($8.29) was fine, a mix of grilled broccoli florets, red, green and yellow bell pepper strips and onions, hot from the grill, with well-made Mexican rice, refried beans, lettuce and pico de gallo plus a foil-wrapped roll of tortillas alongside.

A three-enchilada lunch special ($6.99) was a hit, too, although I’d have preferred a little crema or a lighter ration of cotija cheese to its heavy, pizza-like coating of melted mozzarella. Otherwise, the enchiladas were fine, tender tortillas blanketing melted cheese and topped with a really excellent red chile puree.

Of course, we saved room for that caramel-scented, silken and creamy flan ($3.99). Its smooth, creamy texture and seductive burnt-sugar and dairy flavors with subtle hints of vanilla and orange made a perfect finish. I’d definitely consider eating it first.

A filling lunch for three was a thrifty $30.27, plus a $7 tip. •

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Cancun Mexican Restaurant
808 Lyndon Lane
883-1924
cancunrestaurantlouisville.com

Noise level: A happy, not capacity crowd generated a constant but not deafening buzz. (Average sound level 73-79 dB.)
Accessibility: The entrance and restrooms are accessible to wheelchair users, but it takes some arm strength to open the heavy front door.


Ikebana fills long-vacant Red Pepper space

I still mourn the 2010 departure of Red Pepper, Louisville’s best Chinese restaurant ever. As good as it was, the combination of a $5,000 monthly lease payment and a respected Sichuan chef who required fair payment for his skills, sent it on to restaurant Nirvana after a short, bright two-year tenure, Red Pepper owner Yuan Hua told me when it closed.

Now, the exotic-looking building on Lower Brownsboro Road is lighted up again: Ikebana Japanese Restaurant & Sushi has come to fill the space.

We dropped in for dinner with friends the other night to check it out. There’s been no change in the decor other than, presumably, some mopping and dusting after all those years. The menu offers standard Japanese-American restaurant standards; there’s no sushi bar, but it does offer a list of maki sushi rolls.

We liked the cold, crisp Japanese salads with tart-sweet ginger dressing. Our friends Don and Pat both picked at chicken teriyaki with fried rice ($13.95). Spring rolls ($5.95) were greasy, with gooey, indeterminate filling; veggie tempura ($5.95) was oily, too, with raw, crunchy carrot, sweet potato, broccoli and onion within.

Sushi items did pass muster and rate as recommendable, with asterisks. Beef tataki ($12.95) featured grilled, bite-size bits of beef that could have been left more rare, arranged in a circle with green onions. Inside-out veggie rolls ($4.95) were good, heightened by the crunch of oshinko pickles with cucumber and avocado within; and eel rolls ($9.95) were well-made but diminished by a stingy proportion of fish to rice.

Our share for two, with an icy Kirin Ichiban beer ($4.15), totaled $46.53 and we added a $10 tip. •

Ikebana Japanese Restaurant & Sushi
2901 Brownsboro Road
384-7284
bit.ly/IkebanaLouisville

Noise level:  Silence reigned in an almost empty dining room. (Average sound level 61-65 dB.)
Accessibility: The entrance is accessible via a long ramp from the side parking area, but the big front doors are heavy. The restrooms are spacious but lack grab bars and other accessibility modifications.

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