As defined by Urban Dictionary, a pachuco is “a Chicano or Mexican guy back in the 1930s to 1950s that dressed in zoot suits.” As defined by the Fernandez sisters, Jais, Eren and Mali, it’s a subterranean cantina serving authentic Mexican food with a modern twist. The sisters arrived in Toronto at various times over the last few decades, but ultimately, their shared love of food and entrepreneurial nature led them in 2002 to open Embrujo Flamenco, the Danforth tapas bar with live dancing, and Café Madrid in the cellar, which they’ve now transformed into Pachuco.
While chef Mali specializes in Spanish cuisine, the food of her childhood continued to tug at her while she was cooking at Embrujo. “We love to eat Mexican food but we could never find a place in Toronto that served what we remembered—real, authentic Mexican food.” Eren, who handles the front of house, adds, “We’d never even heard of chimichangas until we got to Toronto!” At Pachuco, the sisters aren’t serving the northern Mexican food you mostly see up here, with its heaps of beans and rice and meat. Instead, the dishes, from the middle and south of the country, are lighter and fresher, with more veggies. The taquitos de huitlacoche ($15), for example, are a pre-Columbian dish of corn fungus (think of it as Mexican truffles) with requesón-avocado salsa. The taquitos de pato ($15), meanwhile, are stuffed with fatty, crispy duck confit and topped with pineapple pico de gallo. And that perennial favourite of Mexican food lovers, guacamole, is well represented on the menu—in five ways, in fact. The sampler ($17) comes with traditional, house-smoked trout and goat cheese variations, served with warm, house-made tortilla chips.
While Embrujo’s room upstairs is a touch more formal, Pachuco is a little rougher, with neon, exposed brick and salvaged iron filigree. The soundtrack is current Mexican pop and rock—the sisters assure us it’s a Mariachi-free zone—and the bar is all about tequilas, Mexican beers and the much-sought-after Mexican Coke (it’s got cane sugar instead of HFCS). The margarita selection changes up based on the availability of fresh fruits, and currently includes spicy mango ($8), a goosed-up version of a childhood snack. Mali recalls: “When we were kiddies, at recess we would run to the stand and get a mango all sprinkled with hot chili. We loved it. The pain is lovely and addictive.”
Pachuco, 99 Danforth Ave., 416-466-8006, pachuco.ca