First opened in 1997, the Blue Cactus was one of those early clutch of venues that set Warsaw’s gastronomy on a bold, new course. Having endured years of unadventurous cuisine, for Poles and expats alike, its bright, Tex-Mex flavors hoisted a culinary lifeline into the sea of bigos we’d previously flailed around in.
Setting a new benchmark, it would not be an understatement to call it revolutionary – that we remember one guy that would regularly fly in from Prague (as in the Czech capital, not the district across the river) to enjoy it, says much for the cachet it quickly earned. But it was more than merely a restaurant: a bastion of life and good living, it became symbolic of Warsaw’s wild, early years in the capitalist world.
Shut in 2017, for many the closure of the Cactus felt like the end of an era. But they say legends never die, and so it’s proved with the return of this institution. Taking shape inside a corner unit of Elektrownia, the new look venture touts glass walls, a tiled bar and a lively open kitchen.
Though looking contemporary in its styling, nods to the past are plentiful and include such elements as rescued artwork (see above) and the original chairs – yep, the same ones you might have sat on (or even danced on) a quarter of a century back.
Make no mistake, veterans will enjoy this place, but so too will newer generations unfamiliar with the brand. There’s a vitality here. Best expressed through the interior, the energy is felt in the overall mood that hangs in the air. People are here to have fun, something that carries across from the staff on the door to the clients at the tables.
No questions asked, the original BC enjoyed its best days in the summer – it didn’t just have a terrace, it had a whole bloody park stretching out in the front: sundowners have rarely been so enjoyable.
Cactus 2.0 does not have the privilege of endless greenery, but it does have a choice location looking out onto a pristine lawn that’s as pure and green as a billiard table. Decked out with seasonal seating, it promises to be quite the check-in during those sweaty weeks ahead. A one-of-a-kind tex-mex restaurant in Warsaw.
We’re told that chef Piotr Ślusarz met with the BC’s first ever cook so as to learn how to successfully revive their more classic dishes, but don’t for one moment think that this is a simple cut-and-paste of all that’s come before.
Succinct and understandable, this is a menu that emphasizes modern trends that value concepts of freshness and provenance. Sourcing the chorizo from an artisanal producer based in Kashubia, the shrimp & chorizo starter should be treated as a case in point.
This refinement is equally apparent via dishes such as the salmon ceviche and tartar ranchero: already a best-seller, this latter offering is evidence that ‘Polonization’ is not always doomed to fail – served on French toast, it’s an inventive take on this domestic go-to dish.
For all the smart additions, what you’re dying to hear is how they fare on the taco and burrito front. The answer: very well indeed. We tried every taco combo served and suggest you do so too! There are no weak links, but there are certainly highlights: loaded with chicken, cucumber, chili, pineapple and coriander, the Al Pastor is a victory of zing, and elevated yet further by the salsas on show.
As for the burrito, the skill and care Ślusarz extends to his food is amply demonstrated by what he does. Traditionally quite an ugly-looking thing, at the Blue Cactus this Mexican staple comes spliced in half and perched on a careful slick of salsa.
It looks magnificent and tastes even more so. Could this become the best burrito in Warsaw? For sure, we’ll need more trips to reach a conclusion but the odds are looking in favo of this tex-mex restaurant in Warsaw.
To judge a Mexican, look no further than its salsa. Here the choice feels broad enough in both heat and scope to fulfill all requirements with honor and distinction. Full of fresh, homespun charm, the pico de gallo is a joy. The pina verde, on the other hand, is all about tang and subtle bite. Smooth in its consistency, addictive personalities will struggle to stop.
Then, there’s the habanero chimichurri – it’s got a lingering bite that should please all but the most demented of heat-seekers. Put simply, you get the idea of a kitchen that’s nailed it. And just to add fuel to the fire, we’re told they’ve since only gone and added a turbo-charged salsa for those that like it hot, hot, hot!
The margaritas play a star role. So it was margaritas we ordered – and plenty of them: strawberry; mango; classic. Repeat. Every bit as good as you want them, they’re all you need to get the fiesta started.
Yet there’s more. Touting also a strong line-up of tequila, the drinks list is further bolstered by the appearance of craft beers from Inne Beczki. Going the extra mile, they’ve created their own Blue Cactus beer with a lime-cactus finish.
Going from cactus to cacti in the blink of an eye, another Cactus has now also taken root in the Norblin Factory! We’re heading there pronto, safe in the assumption that it will match the Elektrownia version in both quality and style.
By the management’s own admission, the old Cactus out-lived itself. Warsaw had moved on. Taking this into account, the resurrection has embraced new philosophies whilst also sticking true to a few select founding principles.
Clear-minded in their approach, this vision has lent a fresh clarity to an over-arching concept, ultimately backed by its deft execution. On every level going the Blue Cactus works making it arguably the best tex-mex restaurant in Warsaw. Where we’re concerned, regular visits are already in the pipeline – say it loud: The Cactus is Backtus – and it’s even better than before!
ul. Zajęcza 2B (Eletrownia Powiśle), Powiśle