Cactus Pear: First To Have An Identity Crisis

Written By Caroline in Reviews

One Clean Plate - Cactus Pear - Building - By Caroline Wik

Cactus Pear is in an older shopping center, however the interior is nice and was recently remodeled.

Cactus Pear (Blue Ash)

9500 Kenwood Rd

Cincinnati, OH 45242

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 plates
Hours: Mon-Thurs: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Fri: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sat: 5:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sun: Closed
Price Range: Appetizers: $8 – $10
Entrees: $10 – $20
Kids: $5
Desserts: $4 – $6

Cactus Pear on Urbanspoon

There is this restaurant that I’ve often seen when driving through Blue Ash, and I keep meaning to stop at but never made it. It’s tucked away in a strip mall but its sign is easily seen from the road. Cactus Pear. A “southwestern bistro” serving “the finest foods using exciting flavors from both sides of the border.”

Exciting flavors? Okay! Let’s go!

As we walked up to the building I saw on the window a “Where The Locals Eat Top 100 Winner” sticker on their door. Alright, even more interested. As we walked in the building was pretty clean, but also devoid of any customers. The interior is nicely decorated with warm earthy tones on the walls and wood flooring. As nice as it is, it was even nicer outside, so we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and sit outside on their patio.

We were seated almost immediately and the waiter took our drink order and said he’d be back in a minute with them and the chips with salsa. So we sat and read over the menu, and read over the menu, and read over the menu. I was struck by how little of the food was actually southwestern, although some of it was labled as “southwestern-style-____.” The Indian menu taped to the inside threw me for a loop too. Maybe it was our indecision that made it seem so, but the waiter took a mighty long time to come back with the drinks and chips & salsa.

Now, I’ve heard a lot about these chips and salsa. Apparently they are supposed to be great. The chips were standard as far as chips go, so nothing major there. The roasted tomato and corn salsa was certainly different from most other restaurants, but I was overall pretty neutral to it. It was okay and I sat and ate several, but I’ll never crave them or want to come back for them.

After ten minutes we still couldn’t decide what to get, so we ordered an appetizer to start. Adam thought the Flameado, which is a small casserole of chorizo sausage, caramelized onions and poblano peppers baked with cheese on top and served with flour tortillas on the side, looked best. We pretty much skipped most of the tortillas as they are cumbersome to deal with. It sounded delicious, and this is one of the few times that a description has ever fooled me. I took one bite of it and about choked it was so awful. I’m pretty sure it was the chorizo that ruined it for me, since the flavor was like melted plastic with cheese on top. Adam thought it was good, but I couldn’t eat any more.

One Clean Plate - Cactus Pear - Flameado - By Caroline Wik

It tasted like rubber. That is all.

We went to Cactus Pear hoping for some good southwestern/Tex-Mex food and it was slowly becoming clear that wasn’t going to happen. So, on a whim we also ordered the Lamb Curry off the Indian menu. It was a very mild cream and tomato curry with lamb and cashews on top of rice, and bread on the side. When it came to our table, it was warm but not hot. It pretty much lives up to the description: mild. It wasn’t a bad dish by any means, but it was lacking something; Inspiration, flavor – I couldn’t really put my finger on it. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t bad, it was just okay. It was, however, my favorite dish we tried.

While eating our Lamb Curry the waiter came back to get our orders, and by this time we were ready. I chose the Steak Fajitas, which came sauteed with peppers and onions. On the side were flour tortillas, black beans, rice, lettuce, pico de gallo and sour cream. The black beans seemed a bit out of place… Kind of like an after thought. They were bland too. The fajitas themselves were drowning in cooking oil, and tasted pretty boring aside from the strong pepper flavor. The beef was tough and overcooked, which also contributed to it’s blandness and a sore jaw.

On the other hand Adam ordered the Tamales of Beef, one of the few really Mexican dishes on the menu. It contained braised sirloin and peppers over corn masa and steamed in corn husks with tomatillo sauce and lemon sour cream on top and the obligatory black beans and rice on the side. Adam said that it was good but frankly unremarkable. I didn’t really care for the tomatillo sauce and lemon sour cream that topped it, but I have to say I agree with Adam’s assessment of it – good but boring.

One Clean Plate - Cactus Pear - Lamb Curry - By Caroline Wik

The Lamb Curry with bread was not what I expected to see on the menu.

One Clean Plate - Cactus Pear - Tamales of Beef - By Caroline Wik

The Tamales of Beef is more along what we expected to find at Cactus Pear, but it turned out to be an unremarkable dish.

I’m not normally a stickler for service unless the service is particularly bad. Our waiter was a really friendly guy, but he was rarely around. What he was doing I don’t know – well after we got there only one other seat had filled and another waiter was taking care of them. Our drinks didn’t get refilled during our almost two-hour visit and even taking care of the bill took forever.

Aside from the one appetizer, overall the food was okay but unremarkable. Not bad, but not good either. The portions of most items are fairly generous, but that doesn’t really make up for the high cost of the entrees in my opinion. A meal at Cactus Pear will definitely fill your belly (we had a few to-go boxes!) but it will be expensive and unmemorable.

I’m not sure how Cactus Pear in Blue Ash stands up to their other location in Clifton, but I do know that I probably won’t be returning to the Blue Ash location. I can’t recommend that any one else go to it, but I can’t really recommend shunning it either. Lots have loved it, lots have hated it. We’re in the middle. Your milage may vary.

Have you been to Cactus Pear before? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! Let us know if we got it right or if we need to give them a second shot.

You know I always take too many pictures to fit into the articles. If you want to see more, check out our Cactus Pear gallery on our Facebook Page. While you’re there, Like us too!

Verdict: A Mediocre Restaurant Having An Identity Crisis.

Cactus Pear is a vaguely southwestern restaurant that had an identity crisis and now also serves Indian food. From India. Yeah. So, it says it’s southwestern food – which could be more adequately stated as southwest-inspired food – plus they have plenty of standard American fare and also Indian food. The saddest part of all is how incredibly bland all the food was. I don’t think any restaurant has ever made me feel so neutral toward the food as this one did. I can’t recommend anyone ever go to Cactus Pear, but I can’t necessarily say “don’t go there” either. The food was pricey (average entree around $16) but the portions were plentiful. If you want real Mexican, or Tex-Mex even, there are far better places than Cactus Pear. Though if you want Tex-Mex and a friend wants Indian, and neither of you wants something particularly impressing, I guess it would be a good fit.

The service we had, despite the restaurant remaining empty the entire time we were there, was poor. Our waiter was friendly but his visits were rare. In the end, an unremarkable visit.

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