Mexican

The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Playa Cabana Cantina, the Junction’s kitschy new taco bar

Introducing: Playa Cabana Cantina

(Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

Dave Sidhu’s Playa Cabana Cantina, which opened late last month in the Junction, is Toronto’s latest taco-and-tequila spot. The menu doesn’t deviate much from sister restaurant Playa Cabana in the Annex, but the room is more boisterous, with a steady stream of reggaeton, bachata and salsa beats pumping loudly overhead.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: A-OK Foods, a new ramen and snack bar from the owners of Yours Truly

Introducing: A-OK Foods

(Image: Renée Suen)

Earlier this year, Yours Truly shifted to an all-tasting-menu format, eliminating the popular bar snacks that had helped build the restaurant’s good name. Now, owners Matt CherkasDan Hawkins and Aleem Jamal-Kabani are bringing some of those favourites back at A-OK Foods, a new snack and ramen bar open for lunch and dinner on Queen West between Ursa and County General. The changing menu, led by head chef Chris Jang, features Chinese, Korean and Mexican flavours, but the big draw will no doubt be the chewy house-made ramen noodles, a rarity in Toronto, made on a special machine imported from Korea and then aged for up to three days.

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The Dish

Trend Watch

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Trend We Love: Huitlacoche (a.k.a. corn smut), spotted on Mexican and non-Mexican menus alike

Tacquitos de huitlacoche at Pachuco. The huitlacoche is on the right (Image: Signe Langford)

Huitlacoche (pronounced weet-la-KOH-chay), a corn fungus that’s popular in Mexican food, has two commonly used English names: the gross-sounding “corn smut” and “Mexican truffle,” which over-promises a little on its earthy if not quite transcendent taste. It’s been showing up with increasing frequency on Mexican menus for the last few years; more recently, we’ve noted an uptick in the use of huitlacoche at other types of restaurants too. Here’s where we’ve spotted it:

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The Dish

Restaurants

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Playa Cabana is setting up sister Cantina in the Junction

Dave Sidhu, owner of the Annex’s Playa Cabana, will be opening Playa Cantina at 2883 Dundas West in the coming weeks, bringing authentic Mexican food to the Junction. Sidhu doesn’t plan to deviate too far from what made Cabana successful: he’s sticking to staples like tacos, burritos and a ceviche of the day. But the sister restaurant won’t be a complete clone. There’s a seven-seat raw bar, and a new focus on cocktails (a cantina is a bar, after all). With Cantina joining Indie Alehouse, located across the street, and the otherwise nameless 3030 Dundas West, the once dry Junction is becoming something of a boozy destination. We think Indie Alehouse summed up the emerging atmosphere best in a tweet: “Tequila! And craft beer. What could go wrong?”

The Informer

Features

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Eight portraits of the affluent, educated professionals flocking to Toronto from around the world

Becoming Torontonian

As the global economy fizzles, our city is being inundated with a new cohort of foreign professionals. They’re coming for the stable economy, the chart-topping livability and the promise of a steady job. Meet the new refugees.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Rebozos on College, a new downtown location for one of the city’s best taco joints

Introducing: Rebozos on College

(Image: Gizelle Lau)

Seven years ago, before tacos had become all-but-inescapable in Toronto, Mexico City native Indalecio Marroquin opened Rebozos, a small taco and pozole joint on Rogers Road. Despite its somewhat out-of-the-way location (for downtowners at least), it soon developed a loyal following and started to attract media attention (we named their beef tongue taco one of the city’s best last year). Now, after two years of trying to find the right space—and a short stint this summer at 214 Augusta, the same market where Agave y Aguacate used to hold courtRebozos has finally secured a downtown location on College Street within spitting distance of the latest taco sensation, La Carnita.

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The Dish

Random Stuff

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Mucho Burrito to sell two burritos laced with the notorious ghost pepper

(Image: Mucho Burrito)

The ghost pepper, a super-spicy Indian hybrid chili also known as naga bhut jolokia, has taken on quasi-mythic status over the last few years. With a Scoville scale rating of over a million (a jalapeño comes in at a mere 5,000), Guinness proclaimed the pepper the hottest in the world in 1997, though it’s arguably since been superseded by the also excellently named Trinidad moruga scorpion. There’s even a mini YouTube genre of people eating the things and then freaking out (large pitchers of milk and faces full of regret figure prominently in these videos). Now, Mucho Burrito, the quick-service Mexican chain from the people behind Extreme Pita and Purblendz, is offering two limited-time-only Ghost Pepper Burritos: the Wimpy, which has ghost pepper bacon, ghost pepper–infused fig marmalade, rice and meat; and the Hotter than Hell, which adds extra-hot salsa and “pure ghost pepper sauce.” Sure, this is a marketing gimmick, but it’s a pretty sweet one (although we suspect it’ll result in more than a few ill-considered challenges between drunken friends). Naturally, the promotion expires on November 2, the Day of the Dead.

The Dish

Restaurants

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Best of the City 2012: Toronto’s top tacos, brunch, pampering service, pickling classes and more

Best of the City, Best of the City 2012

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The Dish

Deathwatch

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Agave y Aguacate closes in Kensington but will be popping up here and there

Agave y Aguacate’s tinga tostada, a 2011 weekly lunch pick (Image: Renée Suen)

After just over a year of delighting Kensington Market with his meticulous Mexican street food, Francisco Alejandri, the affable but intense perfectionist behind Agave y Aguacate, has closed down his stall in the El Gordo food court at 214 Augusta Avenue. In an interview with Post City, Alejandri said that he just couldn’t deal with the chaos and grunginess of the venue (other vendors have also left recently). The market’s owner, Alfonso Segovia, argued that Alejandri’s unpredictable opening hours might have been a bigger reason for Agave y Aguacate’s difficulties in the space, although he also conceded that keeping the tiny market clean and organized is a challenge. In any case, Agave y Aguacate’s many fans need not fear: Alejandri has a few pop-up gigs scheduled. On September 9, he’ll be appearing at the Awestruck food truck awards, and starting next month he’ll be cooking at The Raq on Queen West on Thursdays. He had also been engaged to cook at Harbourfront’s Lifestyle Zone for the next two weekends, but will now be unable to attend. As ever, he’s looking for a more permanent restaurant space. Meanwhile, the Star’s Eat blog is reporting that Seven Lives, a taco concern, will be setting up shop in the El Gordo space. [Post City]

The Dish

Restaurants

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Weekly Lunch Pick: the lamb barbacoa tacos at Playa Cabana

(Image: Renée Suen)

Playa Cabana provides a shady Annex refuge for the throngs of taco lovers in Toronto. Just after it opens at noon, diners fill the buzzing little room or spill into the spacious back patio, some indulging in one of the restaurant’s signature tipples (like a bacon-infused bourbon sour, say), while others dredge their addictive, fresh-fried tortilla chips with guacamole.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Maizal Quesadilla Café, a Liberty Village spot serving Mexican street food that’s not tacos

Introducing: Maizal Quesadilla Café

(Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

In a city that can’t gobble tacos down fast enough, Gabriela Ituarte and Ivan Wadgymar have chosen to do things a little differently. With Maizal Quesadilla Café, the focus is not on the ubiquitous taco, but on the comparatively overlooked quesadilla. The pair aims to showcase Mexico’s cheap ’n’ cheerful street food in a welcoming atmosphere at their Liberty Village café.

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The Dish

Openings

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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.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Easy Restaurant, the College Street outpost of the classic Parkdale breakfast joint

(Image: Susan Keefe)

With the advent of brinner and the dizzying popularity of all things bacon, it’s not surprising that all-day breakfast joints like the Parkdale institution Easy Restaurant are doing well. The ultra-laid-back California-inspired spot cut its teeth at the foot of Roncesvalles Village, and last month it set its sights on Little Italy, opening a sister location on College. We dropped by to check it out.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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Weekly Lunch Pick: the aromatic pozole at Tacos El Asador

(Image: Renée Suen)

Although the city is currently in the grips of a full-blown taco mania, Tacos El Asador gives Torontonians reasons to celebrate Latin American cuisine that goes beyond its namesake dish. The popular Koreatown institution has been serving Salvadoran food for nearly two decades, and has a fiercely loyal following.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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Turns out, frozen yogurt and burritos were Toronto’s biggest restaurant trends in 2011

Last week, the NPD Group released a report full of interesting revelations about this hungry city’s eating habits and the effects they have on restaurants. The bad news is restaurants suffered: 60 per cent of all Canadian restaurant closures in 2011 happened in Toronto, with independent “ethnic” restaurants bearing the brunt of it. Not suffering in 2011 were froyo shops and burrito joints, which opened more locations than any other category (whether this constitutes good or bad news is debatable). The actually good news is that a January report from the same group predicted that Canadian restaurants would experience a 10 per cent increase in traffic over the next decade (outpacing projected population growth), and given what we saw in March, April and May, we think the market is making a healthy turnaround.

(Images: frozen yogurt, janineomg; burrito, Aranami)

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