Latin American comfort food, long the darling of the metropolitan dining realm, was conspicuously absent from Edmonton until upstart taqueria Tres Carnales turned heads and piqued palates in 2011. The Tres Carnales juggernaut taught Edmontonians that Mexican cuisine far transcended its lacklustre fast-food reputation; yet, five years later, only a handful of eateries perpetuate their motherland's unfussy and jubilant fare.
Huma (its name a portmanteau of owners Humberto and Mariel) Mexican Restaurant joins these ranks and brightens up an otherwise mundane strip mall on Edmonton's south side. Electric blue, yellow and orange walls are lavishly decorated with all manner of Meso-Americana – think luchador masks, tapestries and a framed Mother Mary. Conversational din from the busy room drowns out the croons of a televised Mexican talent show. Clanks and clatters emanate from the open kitchen, and at least half of the room is speaking Spanish.
A multi-page menu spans considerable territory, including permutations of tacos, tortas and enchiladas. A mint-laced mojito ($9) or a fruity-sweet glass of house sangria ($8) break no new ground but are refreshingly quaffable. Starters bode well. Shrimp aguachile ($10.50) presents a smattering of plump prawns that are cured in citrus juice, ceviche-style, and laced with latent heat from assertive serrano peppers. Buttery avocado slices tame the fire. The entire mixture is a bit too chunky to effectively scoop up with tortilla chips, but the chips themselves are crisp, light and not a bit too salty.
A trio of agreeable tacos de lengua ($15.50) pushes oft-scorned beef tongue into the spotlight. Here, structurally sound corn tortillas bear a mighty cargo of supple, sliced tongue. These tacos are an easy overture into off cuts for those averse to offal, but it's almost too mild. A squeeze of lime and a few slices of peppery radish help things along.
Pastel azteca ($15.50) underwhelms with a verisimilitude of beige flavours. Corn tortillas are layered with chicken, corn, onion and crema in this Latin version of lasagna, but the answer to this monochromatic equation is blurry. A plain side salad is mostly iceberg lettuce. Enmoladas ($18) fare significantly better: A generous blanket of cinnamon-scented mole sauce blankets a trio of chicken-stuffed tortillas. Here, the juxtaposition of dark sauce and light meat works beautifully, but the scoop of white rice loaded with frozen mixed veggies is nearly unforgivable.
The Mexican predilection for sweet desserts manifests as arroz con leche ($4) and chocolate mousse ($5.75). Both are achingly rich and would be at home in any abuelita's kitchen.
Huma wears its heart on its sleeve – so evident in the artwork and artifacts lovingly curated from south of the border – but its heart is not yet matched by its food.