Location: 501 College St, Toronto, ON
Executive chef: Andrew Richmond
Price point: $-$$
I saw the light bouncing off a small sign that displayed one simple, but creative sugar skull outlined with taco favourites; hot peppers, cilantro leaves, pigs heads, etc. and I knew I had arrived! That, and I’d only been there 100 times…too busy stuffing my face though to ever think clear enough to write an article!
It was a Monday night, and the place was bumping…obviously! I can’t imagine there’s any better way to cure the Monday blues than with tequila (or gin, spoiler alert) and of course tacos…right? Even better than ‘Taco Tuesday’ because the hopeful thought of having tacos a second day in a row gets my heart racing (could very well be the cholesterol, but we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one).
We were even lucky enough to snatch a communal right away…score! That’s about as rare as Gordon Ramsay following me on Instagram (very slim…but then it happened…and I just needed to openly talk about it again).
We were sat next to the famous neon La Carnita sign, which at times was probably photographed more than the food. I don’t know what lit up the room more…the flash from people’s iPhones or the neon sign itself…either way the room was lit just enough to make you blissfully aware of what was about to go down!
Our hip little server came over with menus and a cocktail list…although I already knew what beverage I was having. Of course it’s no longer on the menu though (just my luck) but their kickass staff aim to please regardless!
“I’ll take an Astroturf please!!!” I spit out before our server even had a chance to open her mouth! She giggled at my abrupt rudeness but knew it came from a place of sincere excitement, so she brushed it off! Dillon’s gin, Cointreau, lime juice, Bittermens Celery Shrub, agave and soda…1 astroturf, 2 astroturf, 3 ass on the turf! They’re potent but delicious! Definitely worth that micro Tuesday morning hangover!
We started with a couple of the classic staples…guacamole and the famous Mexican street corn!
Chips were fried to perfection but seasoned almost a little bit too much this time. The guac on the other hand was a completely different story…it was spectacular! Creamy and velvety, not too chunky but far from being a puree! I always request a little extra ancho chilli powder with mine as well because anytime I can opt for an extra dose of heat, I do!
Now I’m about to get corny…ha ha…ha…ok fine it was a terrible joke! The char-grilled corn topped with Mexican crema, queso anejo and again, ancho chilli could nearly pass as a steak! For the vegetarians out there…this is your chance to trade in that fake soy garbage for what could easily pass (flavour profile wise) as a slab of juicy, tender meat…hold the meat of course!
I won’t lie, I’ve never seen anyone look good while eating this, and yes, I’m also talking about myself! Maybe I could pitch an expose to Buzzfeed on the many faces of Mexican street corn eaters? It has viral potential in my opinion!!
In Cod We Trust is, you guessed it, battered cod loaded with a lime crema, cilantro and green apple salad, pickled red cabbage and a Tamari (richer, gluten-free soy sauce) based condiment better known as “Voltron” sauce! It’s such a simple but well-balanced dish that always has me yearning for more! The savouriness from the battered cod, paired with the refreshing lime infused crema and tartness from the apple and cilantro salad was more than enough to deem it a killer dish! But thennn they went ahead and topped it with pickled red cabbage and the salty/spicy “Voltron sauce” which tied every carefully selected ingredient together!
Then I decided to try the Crispy Cotija for my virgin time! What if I didn’t like it? Then I certainly had to play it safe and save my favourite for last! The “star” of this dish was the fried cauliflower, pinto bean and cotija cheese stick? I don’t know how else to better describe it? But to be honest, it was no “star”…I couldn’t even finish it! The texture of the stick was incredibly off-putting, dense and almost soggy on the inside! However there were still other memorable components in the taco! The chipotle sauce was the perfect ratio of smoke to spice and the pickled carrots were divine! At first glance, I didn’t even realize they were carrots! They had this deep red-orange hue to them, but the orange had gone completely undetected under the dimmed lighting! It wasn’t until I took a bite that the natural sweetness made it prevalent as to what I was eating! I could have eaten an entire taco filled with just those pickled carrots though, mmmm!
But when I locked eyes with my favourite menu item, it was game over! The earlier part of the evening was but a distant memory because the Tostada de Ceviche was calling my name, and I wasn’t about to be rude! So I attacked it…in a loving, respectful way of course!
I’m a sucker for crunch…and mess…so tostadas are the perfect combination! This one in particular!
The crunch from the tortilla with the creaminess of the guacamole and coconut milk made for the perfect base! Then came the habanero tuna ceviche, which it read on the physical menu…but online read swordfish? Though I’m afraid I’ve never tried swordfish before so I wouldn’t be able to decipher it from chicken…although fish compared to chicken should be an easy assumption!
Either way, the ceviche was out of this world! The subtle heat with the coolness of the “fish” beautifully enhanced each of the flavour profiles! It was like the heat and the coolness took turns making an appearance, leaving you wanting more! But if I didn’t think there was enough texture from the tostada shell alone, it was then topped with fresh, crisp sprouts that once again, just completely rounded out the dish! I could eat 11 of these bad boys regardless of how full I got…and still want more! Because sometimes great food just trumps all etiquettes…including unbuttoning your pants…no shame!
Unfortunately this time around I wasn’t able to complete a full three-course meal wrapping up with dessert! Although my evening could have been classified as a 5-course meal if you counted the 2 appetizers and 3 tacos I devoured…but who’s counting!
I will however briefly speak about the desserts I have had in the past though, because let’s face it, who doesn’t love dessert?
Let’s start with the churros, because they are truly some of the best I’ve ever had! Light, moist and paired with the most amazing cajeta (a Mexican sweetened caramelized milk) that is just to die for! Although contrary to my earlier statement (and by earlier I mean 3 sentences prior), I’m actually not a big sweets fan! I’m all for the salty or savoury desserts, which is why churros are such a big hit in my books! The cajeta is sweet, don’t get me wrong, but the caramelization gives it just enough depth to subtly counteract it!
Then there are the paletas! House made Latin-American style ice pops featuring fun daily specials such as banana split, lemon meringue pie and cereal milk…to name a few! They’re incredible and are always something to look forward to ending the meal with (how ironic of me to say that this time around).
If you haven’t been to La Carnita yet…GO! If you have been…GO AGAIN!