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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Steel Cactus - Shadyside

Ceviche and taquitos, are coming out of my speedo.

I'd heard a lot of negative buzz surrounding the food at Steel Cactus. Naturally, I was very skeptical about the cuisine but nonetheless excited to hang out on a roof in Shadyside and drink $3 glasses of wine. (Shrimp and wine are the focal points of what I define as summertime.)

The Steel Cactus is the Amp'd restaurant group's attempt to capitalize on the success of Mad Mex which is run by the Big Burrito restaurant group. There is actually another Steel Cactus that is currently being built in the Southside. I'd imagine that the Amp'd group would be thrilled if they could achieve even a quarter of the success Big Burrito has seen with Mad Mex. (Over ten locations throughout Pennsylvania with one in Ohio.)

Pictured above are the ceviche with pico de gallo and mango and the pulled chicken taquitos, priced at $5 and $4 respectively during happy hour.  The ceviche was a little on the bitter side but otherwise quite flavorful and delicious with a good amount of shrimp. I thought the taquitos were great, very crispy with well seasoned meat. Also, a very good portion for the price point. I certainly wouldn't consider either of the two dishes I sampled to be authentic or particularly masterful (ceviche is Peruvian and taquitos are quintessential Mex-American) However, I think the complaints about Steel Cactus are largely unwarranted.

They are serving $4 appetizers and $3 glasses of wine on a beautiful rooftop deck. What do you expect? If you want authentic Mexican in Pittsburgh I suggest Las Palmas street tacos. I get them almost every week. Then I eat my tacos on a dirty street corner in Oakland next to piles of broken glass undoubtedly discarded  by the outstanding students of the University of Pittsburgh.

Future Batman villain?
This guy is enjoying the dessert chimichanga, a sweet flour tortilla with a hint of cinnamon, cheesecake filling and caramel deep fried with whipped cream and raspberry puree. I explained to him that I needed to sample the dish for the purposes of science. He was surprisingly accommodating. I'd say the dish was pretty similar to the dessert chimichanga that was originally offered by Chi-Chi's, minus the chocolate syrup. I'd actually love to see the emergence of some new Mex-American inspired desserts such as avocado cheesecake, tres de leches bon bons or caramel chocolate empanadas.

In order to thrive I believe the Steel Cactus should focus on finding some interesting ways to differentiate themselves from Mad Mex. Although emulation is flattery, it isn't always a recipe for success.

Steel Cactus Mexican Restaurant & Cantina on Urbanspoon

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