tequila

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Critic: How tequila-fuelled taquerias like Playa Cabana became the city’s buzziest places to eat—and party

Playa Cabana Cantina

Playa Cabana Cantina in the Junction is the latest in a string of buzzy new taquerias. Right: Tequila is a serious concern at Cantina—this oak-aged Burdeos sells for $90 an ounce

Grand Electric One Star ½
1330 Queen St. W., 416-627-3459

La CarnitaOne Star
501 College St., 416-964-1555

Playa CabanaTwo Stars
111 Dupont St., 416-929-3911

Playa Cabana Cantina Two Stars
2883 Dundas St. W., 647-352-7767


Playa Cabana is on the ground floor of a slim Dupont semi just off Davenport, a convenient pit stop after a wardrobe binge in Yorkville. Regulars call the restaurant “Playa,” like it’s their clubhouse. On weekends, a bouncer poses at the door. There always seems to be a posse of chatty smokers blocking the sidewalk out front, the volume of their squeals in direct proportion to tequila consumed. Last summer, the restaurant’s back patio grew so loud that a group of neighbours from the million-dollar lofts next door called their lawyers and the cops.

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Drinks

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Toronto Life Cookbook: 10 delicious tequila cocktails from the Reposado team

Owners Sandy and Catherine MacFadyen and bartender Jan Ollner make up Reposado’s stellar tequila team. Here, a slate of cocktails mixed from the 100-plus varieties at their Ossington hot spot

Toronto Life Cookbook: Tequila

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: Pacific Junction Hotel, a bright new island-themed bar from the owners of Betty’s

Introducing: Pacific Junction Hotel

(Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

The Pacific Junction Hotel is not, despite its name, a hotel. Instead, it’s a brightly coloured new bar in the King Street East space that formerly housed Brad Long’s Veritas, and it’s packed from floor to ceiling with whimsical pieces. Owned by the same people behind next door’s Betty’s, this free-spirited cousin is a much-needed injection of laid-back island attitude into the sometimes staid neighbourhood.

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The Dish

Openings

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Introducing: SpiritHouse, King West’s new home for cocktail nerds

Brad Gubbins behind the bar, pouring a Toronto cocktail (Image: Gizelle Lau)

SpiritHouse, which opened last week, aims to bring a little cocktail cred to King West, a neighbourhood that’s often better known for the quantity rather than the quality of the booze consumed. A “spirit” bar rather than just a cocktail bar, SpiritHouse boasts a 400+ bottle selection, one of the largest in the city, including the Canadian Tag Vodka, Victoria Gin and Tromba Tequila. It’s also founded by Len Fragomeni, of the Toronto Institute of Bartending (they  operate out of the same building at Portland and Adelaide), which means it’s quickly becoming the place to go for a thorough cocktail education.

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Restaurants

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New Reviews: Don Don Izakaya, Pachuco Modmex and Hopgood’s Foodliner

A Japanese izakaya to rival Guu Maritime comfort food and more haute tacos

DON DON IZAKAYA star
130 Dundas St. W., 416-492-5292

Just opened: Don Don IzakayaTaiko drums and a chorus of Japanese greetings welcome diners as they walk into Toronto’s latest izakaya. Don Don is great fun, if you can get in—on weekends, wait times soar to 45 minutes or longer. Chef and co-owner Daisuke Izutsu, whose restaurant Kaiseki Sakura closed last year, works the floor with charisma, chatting with diners at the long communal tables opposite the open kitchen. His menu is fantastically adventurous and confident. For example, Hopetta-Yaki—mashed potatoes topped with chicken confit, gremolata, pickled ginger, shaved bonito, salty-sweet bulldog sauce and a squiggle of mayonnaise—is as addictive as it is unusual. Mackerel sashimi, charred tableside by a blowtorch-wielding showman of a server, is smoky and delicate. Desserts include velvety caramel flan and intense green tea mousse. Over 70 sakes are available, as well as 13 shochu cocktails. Small plates $5–$8.

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The Dish

Drinks

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Two looks at the Canadian craft spirits “boomlet” 

The Distillery District’s large-scale booze output may be a relic of the past, but across Canada, small-time craft distillers are intoxicating hooch lovers both locally and abroad. An article in the Globe and Mail today highlighted some of those distillers’ successes. Out east, Prince Edward Distillery gin earned 92 points (the same score as Bombay Sapphire) from Chicago’s Beverage Testing Institute, an independent lab that ranks alcoholic beverages. And the distillery’s potato-based vodka won gold at the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, beating out top-name brands like Chopin, Skyy and Stolichnaya Red. Closer to home, Post City ran a story this week on Tequila Tromba, the new-ish tequila from Toronto’s Eric Brass, which is currently the only independent tequila available on the general list at the LCBO (it also makes for a great “La Hoja” cocktail). Tromba is spreading like wildfire, showing up at places like Brassaii, Boehmer, Cold Tea, The Drake, Pravda, The Thompson, Yours Truly and 416 Snack Bar. And of course there’s the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company down in the Distillery District, and the Concord-based Still Waters, which brews small batches of vodka. Still, despite what the Globe and Mail calls a “boomlet,” the craft-spirits renaissance is a tough racket. The domestic market is flooded by foreign-owned giants, and it can be tough to get listed by provincial liquor monopolies. Profit margins in the boutique booze business are small, and owners often have to keep other day jobs to stay afloat. [Globe and Mail] [Post City]

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