La Comida de La Carnita

There’s only a couple of weeks left to year end and I’m frantically trying to work my way through my 2012 bucket list of restaurants.  This past weekend I started on my quest to complete the task and finally made it to La Carnita on Saturday night.

I have been pumped for months to get to one of Toronto’s newest  taco restos after all the hype from their pop-up restaurant days and their cult -like following.  Located at 501 College St, you can’t miss the Dios de los Muertos skull sign hanging below the bare light bulb.

Upon arriving I was pleasantly surprised at the seating capacity and, on this Saturday night there was no long line up at the door.  We had the choice between the communal picnic type tables at the back or the bar.  We chose the bar.    A new artist’s work is commissioned every month and their work hangs on the walls. Funky graffiti street art covers one of the main walls that is lined by long tables.  As a token everyone gets a small art print at the end of the meal,  a nice touch.  A mostly younger crowed, not all hipsters but a good mix of people who enjoy tacos and Mexican beer.

After a quick review of the drink menu I opted for a Crema at the recommendation of the bartender.  While I can’t remember all the ingredients, it’s like a Pina Colada without a huge amount of coconut cream  but with a distinctive lime zing to it.

A fair choice of interesting and fresh tacos and tostadas.  I’ve read some reviews that said the menu needs to be bolstered, changed or made more exciting and that at $4.75 is pricey for what you get.  Hey folks, this is Mexican street food, think tapas not full courses by any means.

The eating started with Tortilla chips with all three sides, guacamole, Sikil Pak and the Mexcal Chipotle Pate.  I am not a big fan of guacamole generally as I find it bland, this was no different.  However the Sikil Pak had a good bite to it and the Mezcal Chipotle Pate worked well with the mildly spicy nacho chips.

We ordered pretty much the whole taco menu and including the daily special, the Arctic Char Tostada.  I will have to try the In Cod We Trust next time I am there as this item seems to be one of the more popular choices based on what I’ve read from other bloggers and Yelp reviews.

Our first three tacos and tostadas arrived quickly. While the Tostada de Ceviche had a good portion of shrimp, overall the taste was bland and could’ve used some lime juice or hot sauce to pick it up a little.   The beef cheek taco was satisfying and had good blend of texture with green cabbage, pickled jalapeños and crispy shallots.  Our favourite was the Arctic Char Tostada.  The fish was warm, cooked perfectly.  The garnish of tomato coriander sauce and fresh grilled corn salsa was a perfect accompaniment.  Our second order of Pollo Frito and Chorizo tacos arrived just as promptly as the first.  The best of these two was the spicy chorizo taco.

I was impressed that they had more than two items as dessert choices.  While I was tempted by the warm churros that were leaving the kitchen, I opted for the flan topped chocolate cake with dulce de leche and caramel corn, I had no regrets. We completed our meal with a Tequila Reposado shot, so good!

What you need to remember is that this is a taco joint, not quite a restaurant and not quite a bar.  It’s a place for friends to get together talk, drink and enjoy street food.  The music is good, but loud, the atmosphere bustles with cool.  The beer is cold, the tequila is smooth, the food is fresh and simple – the evening was complete.  Yes, I will be back to sit on their patio in the summer and try the rest of the menu.

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