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Introducing: La Carnita, the bricks-and-mortar incarnation of the pop-up taco sensation

(Image: Renée Suen)

Last July we introduced you to La Carnita, the city’s first pop-up taco stand. It was also, of course, a cheeky experiment by co-owners Andrew Richmond and Amin Todai (of marketing shop OneMethod) to get around health code regulations by selling street art and siding it with complimentary loot bags filled with tacos. After gaining a cult-like following, the taco-slinging operation has now taken permanent residence at College and Bathurst, and it’s arguably one of the summer’s most highly anticipated openings—no mean feat for restaurant industry outsiders.

Prospective diners hoping to score a taco fix shouldn’t look for the restaurant’s name, but rather its signature Meathead mascot—a Día de los Muertosinspired skull made up of taco ingredients—and the word “gringo” tiled on its entrance step. The 2,000-square-foot space, which previously housed Briscola, marries steel with concrete in black, white and various shades of orange and yellow (Richmond worked with Solid Design and Build on the space). Sand-blasted concrete walls adorned with freehand graffiti by artist Andrew Kidder fill out the front room, while in the back room, there’s a wall inscribed with shout-outs to Richmond’s friends, affiliates and former OneMethod colleagues. The street art extends into the basement level, where Meathead posters, all based on Matt Webb’s original design, are wheat-pasted by Skam and Webb on the “chaos wall” across from five unisex washrooms. Although much of the layout and fixtures are borrowed from its predecessor, the restaurant’s reused elements have been skip-planned, stripped, stained, distressed and refitted to project a more industrial feel (and yes, there’s reclaimed wood). Above the bar, an eye-catching light fixture by Milke Bau resembles telephone wires strung together.

While this is technically Richmond’s first restaurant job, he has surrounded himself with industry vets, including chefs Jonathan Hamilton (Pizzeria Libretto) and Nathan Middleton (Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, 416 Snack Bar) and pastry chef Sasha Bogin (Pizzeria Libretto), who will operate the open kitchen with Richmond. The small menu naturally boasts tacos ($5 each), including the signature In Cod We Trust with “Voltron” sauce and others topped with house-made red and green chorizo. It’s rounded out by a handful of other street food dishes like Mexican sweet corn ($7 for two cobs), avocado mango salad ($8) and house-fried tortilla chips ($6.50–$13) with guacamole, Sikil Pak Mezcal (pumpkin seed dip) and chipotle chicken liver pâté. For dessert, there are churros with cajeta ($5) and paletas ($3.50), Mexican popsicles that will change with the season. The restaurant has a growing beer list, mainly featuring Canadian and American craft beers in bottles and on tap. There’s also a focused wine list, plus tequilas and cocktails, including Micheladas.

And what of the original collectable art concept? The restaurant will be selling shirts designed by guest artists ($21) and various one-off art pieces. And every month, signed limited-edition Meathead prints will be given out with each of the first 5,000 tacos purchased, a neat reversal of the trick that got the whole operation started.

La Carnita, 501 College St, 416-964-1555, lacarnita.com, @la_carnita

Our Introducing series explores newly opened restaurants, bars and shops throughout the GTA
This is not a review.
Toronto Life’s starred reviews can be found in their entirety in our
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