About eight years ago, before my son was born and when my daughter was a toddler, my husband and I escaped to Las Vegas for a romantic weekend getaway. With no concrete plans in mind, we did a lot of exploring of the mega-resorts on the Strip and wandering into restaurants we thought looked pretty good. While strolling the indoor, entertaining “streetmosphere” environment of the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, we happened upon the Mexican restaurant Taqueria Cañonita. My husband, Quent, ordered the Zácatesas Chile Relleno and pronounced it the best chile relleno in Las Vegas. Nope, scratch that. He said it was the best chile relleno he’d ever had.
Now this isn’t your typical chile relleno. Rather, ingredients such as goat cheese, dried fruits and almonds combine for a savory-sweet flavor. I agreed with Quent: the gourmet twist was unexpected and good — however, the accompanying guajillo (chile) sauce was a bit too spicy for my tastes.
But my husband loved it. And couldn’t stop talking about it even weeks after our Vegas trip. We tried to replicate the dish at home with our own grocery-store poblano peppers, dried cherries and goat cheese, to no avail (in fact, it was an epic fail). I even went so far as to email The Venetian to try to get a restaurant recipe, but never got a response back.
I eventually forgot about the chile relleno, but I guess my husband didn’t.
Flash forward to last spring, when we returned to Vegas, again sans kids. With an entire weekend to play, my husband suggested seeking out the Mexican restaurant with the famed chile relleno. Sure! Why not! We scoured the Las Vegas dining guides and could not find one Mexican restaurant in The Venetian. Must be closed, we figured, and settled for a Friday night meal at a Mexican restaurant at Treasure Island (which was good, but not outta this world; and it sure didn’t have the goat-cheese chile relleno on the menu).
It wasn’t until Sunday late morning, the day we were returning home, when we were walking down the Strip and passing the outdoor “canals” and gondolas in front of The Venetian that it hit me — we were looking up Mexican restaurants in the wrong place! The restaurant wasn’t in the hotel proper, but the adjacent shopping plaza! (It was one of those definite Homer Simpson “d’oh!” moments.) We walked into the building, found the Grand Canal Shoppes, and sure enough, the restaurant was still there — with the dang chile relleno still on the menu. But we were stuffed with sausage and eggs from our morning buffet meal; it made no sense to eat again before our plane took off.
Flash forward again to two weeks ago, New Year’s Day, when we were driving home from my mom’s house in California — through Las Vegas. The kids were hungry as we neared the California-Vegas border, and wanted to stop to eat lunch, but I insisted: “We need to get Daddy his chile relleno.”
Nope, we couldn’t stop at some random eatery just off the interstate. We had to pull off, negotiate ridiculous traffic and crowds of people on the Strip sidewalks to go to Taqueria Cañonita. (Quent was frankly more ambivalent about it — “We don’t have to go,” he said. But I was all about the successful hunt, chase and satisfaction of getting him the yummy meal he’d had eight years prior. Plus, the man was about to drive 10 more hours to our Colorado home. He needed a sated belly.)
So we parked in a crowded hotel parking garage, negotiated plenty of hungover folks in the shopping plaza, and settled into a table next to the faux canals (complete with real gondolas and singing gondoliers) in Taqueria Cañonita. The kids devoured chicken-and-cheese quesadillas, I enjoyed my chicken enchiladas and Quent ordered his beloved chile relleno.
I asked how it was, and he replied, “Good. Really good. But not as good as the first time.”
I suppose I wasn’t surprised. Oftentimes your first taste of anything — the first time you see the Eiffel Tower, the first time you jump out of a plane, the first time you kiss the love of your life — is the best. Still, we sure had fun giggling about the quest for the chile relleno, I liked showing my kids the crazy man-made canals, and we talked about how we’d like to travel as a family to Italy someday.
I suppose the next time we go to Vegas we don’t have to worry about returning to Taqueria Cañonita. But I’d highly recommend to anyone else to try the chile relleno for yourself!