I’m the first to admit I am a bit of a late adopter. Maybe it’s my inner stubborness. Maybe it’s my refusal to join any type of bandwagon.
But when I do join the party, it’s like a lightbulb moment.
When we entered Isla Mexican Kitchen on The Pearl Qatar, it was as if I was entering a party I was either late to or hadn’t been invited to. It was a mid-week and the place was busy. I thought, “hang onnnnn….how did I not know about this place?”.
Clearly I was living under the foodie equivalent of a large rock.
And to be fair, I generally have an aversion to eating at The Pearl Qatar. It’s far and I’ve always found the food options a little generic. I’m please to see this is slowly being chipped away at.
Isla is one of celebrity chef Richard Sandoval’s global footprint. I’m not a worshipper at the celebrity chef altar, but Sandoval is one that I admire. I’ve eaten in his restaurants in the Middle East and the US and find his food crowd pleasing yet also authentic.
Speaking of authentic – the head chef at Isla is Mexican. Access to some ingredients notwithstanding, his passion and skill is obvious.
Mexican food is one of the few cuisines that AZ and I are on the same page about. It caters for fish lovers and carnivores alike. Plus it has a spice level that keeps us both happy.
Just a note on the spice level – Isla offers a selection of sauces ranging from the “ok that’s nice” through to the terrifying “OH MY GOD, MY SCALP IS SWEATING”.
At Isla, the menu spans the full gamut of Mexican and Tex/Mex comfort foods – tacos, nachos and enchiladas, but also adds some surprises like a silky hamour ceviche and a chilli and coffee rubbed lamb rack.
One huge surprise for me was the wonderfully unctious queso fundito – basically melted cheese with mushroom. Spooned into a warm tortilla with one of their chilli sauces, I felt like I was wrapped in a warm, gooey blanket and ready for bed.
Another favorite was the fresh guacamole made table side – it was chunky and citrusy just how I like it. You can also order the pimped up version with pomegranate.
Mains were also a success. A serving of beef tacos served in the hard shells came with a fork tender tenderloin and a salsa that carried a little kick.
The fajitas arrived theatrically, sizzling on their stone plates. If I had to be honest, I enjoyed AZ’s tender and flavorful chicken rendition more than my shrimp one. The shrimp were verging on overcooked, but were flavorful. It’s a minor quibble.
I also had major FOMO when I saw a neighboring table delivered a heaving plate of nachos. Reason to return!
As we ate I noticed nearly every table was full of both locals and expats enjoying the good food. Isla has been open a couple of years now and replaced one of my favorites, Maya, which really suffered when the alcohol ban was brought in on The Pearl (it had an excellent happy hour)
Those who love a bit of a sugar fix will be happy to see the menu boasts SEVEN kinds of churros. SEVEN.
Service is well trained but also clued in. The restaurant also has a large outside terrace that is popular come the cooler months. One of the more surprising aspects is the the restaurant’s reasonable prices. Nothing is other QR120 (and that’s for the beef main dishes).
Verdict: Isla Mexican Grill may have been one of the city’s best kept secrets. With a menu chock full of a range of favorites (and a few more challenging dishes) and genuine service, this should be on your Doha dining bucket list.
What to Order: The chicken fajitas, freshly made guacamole and the shrimp ceviche.
What to Know: Isla is on Porto Arabia at The Pearl Qatar. Free parking is available under Tower One.
Please read the small print.