Decent Mexican Food at Tacos 101

Tacos 101Location: 178 Baldwin Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.facebook.com/tacos101toronto/

After a long hiatus (their original location on Dundas East shut down three years ago), Tacos 101 is back, this time in Kensington Market.

I don’t think I ever visited the original location (or if I did, it wasn’t memorable enough to stick in my brain) so I can’t comment on how it compares to the Dundas location, but it’s a decent enough addition to the area.

Tacos 101

Their specialty is al pastor, a style of taco that’s filled with pork cooked over a rotating spit, shawarma-style.

Tacos 101

Mostly, it’s pretty good — the various sauces are zingy and tasty, the pork is nicely seasoned, the pineapple adds a brightness that contrasts nicely with the savoury pork, and the two corn tortillas are fresh and hold up very nicely to the overstuffed taco.  But the pork is almost entirely lacking in the crispy bits that makes this style of cooking so delightful, and it’s crazy dry.  They’re supposedly using pork shoulder, but the meat has the texture of the driest piece of pork loin that you’ve ever had.

Tacos 101

Everything else about the taco is tasty enough that this isn’t a huge issue, but it’s a shame nonetheless.

I also tried the tortilla chips with refried beans and guacamole — both dips were quite tasty, though the refried beans were a bit underseasoned, as were the chips themselves.

Tacos 101

In the case of the chips, apparently the lack of seasoning is on purpose to highlight the flavour of the dips, and, uh, I don’t think that’s the way food works?  All of the elements of a dish need to be seasoned or the whole thing will lack flavour (this is why, for example, you have to aggressively salt your pasta water, even if you’re going to toss the pasta in a flavourful sauce).

Old School Burritos at Burrito Gordito

Burrito GorditoLocation: 120 Peter Street, Toronto
Website: http://www.burritogordito.ca/

It’s hard to imagine this now, but there was a time in Toronto when you couldn’t find a shop selling baby-sized burritos on every other block.  But of course, Burrito Boyz opened on Peter Street in 2003 and basically launched a city-wide obsession.

After a split between the owners, that spot became Burrito Banditos, and now it’s Burrito Gordito.  I have no idea if either of the original Burrito Boyz boys are involved here, but the menu is pretty much the same.

Burrito Gordito

I ordered the steak burrito, which was always my favourite back in the original Burrito Boyz days, and yeah, it’s still good.  I don’t know if it’s quite as tasty as I remember it being way back in the early aughts, but then how can you possibly compete with warm and fuzzy memories from well over a decade ago?

Burrito Gordito

The quality of the steak itself is quite good, and there’s a generous amount of it.  It’s nice and tender but still has a satisfying chew, and it has a mild but enjoyable beefy flavour.

As for the rest of it, it’s as crammed with rice, beans, and sauces as you’re expecting, with a nice variety of zippy flavours.  I ordered it spicy and it was barely hot at all (I remember it being legitimately fiery back in the Burrito Boyz days), but aside from that it’s quite satisfying.

Burrito Gordito

It’s also nicely toasted on the outside — they even roll it over to toast it on its sides, which is a nice touch.

(Mostly) Tasty Eats at The Ex

The ExLocation: 210 Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto
Website: https://theex.com/

Though I haven’t been in a couple of years, I enjoy going to the Ex.  I mean, they have an enormous building dedicated entirely to food, not to mention vendor after vendor selling junky carnival food, so of course I enjoy it.

I didn’t get to try quite as much as I would have liked (this stuff was all extremely heavy), but I sampled a few things.

The Ex

The Big Chief from Porkies Sandwich Co.

This place specializes in porchetta and pork belly, and serves a sandwich that’s crammed with both of them.  The two meats are topped with caramelized onions, arugula, provolone, salsa verde, and chipotle mayo.  It’s not bad — the two types of pork are a bit bland and textureless (they’re super tender, but there are zero crispy bits or crackling), but they’re still porky and satisfying.  The cheese was unmelted and basically added nothing to the sandwich, but the onions and the sauces are tasty and do a good job of cutting through the extreme richness of the belly and the porchetta.  I will say, however, that this might have been the greasiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Grease was leaking everywhere.

The Ex

Scorpion Burrito from Burrito Co.

Though Burrito Co. advertises this as “Canada’s hottest burrito,” that’s a dubious claim; the burrito itself is barely spicy at all.  It does, however, come with a tiny dropper filled with a legitimately fiery hot sauce.  This stuff isn’t kidding around, though I wish they had added it right into the burrito, because having to reapply it every couple of mouthfuls was a bit of a pain.  As for the burrito itself, it was fine, I guess?  It was decent enough, but nothing about it particularly stands out (other than the comically absurd $19.25 price tag).

The Ex

Pickle Pizza from Rick’s Pizza

This is the only thing I tried that was outside of the food building.  The slice is basically exploding with pickle flavour; it’s topped with pickle slices, and features dill ranch instead of tomato sauce.  It’s a novelty food and it tastes like a novelty food, but it’s actually kind of satisfying.  The pickles are nice and zingy, and the pizza itself is decent.  I don’t know that I’d want to eat this all the time — but isn’t that the whole point of carnival food?  If it’s something you’d want to eat on a regular basis, it’s probably not doing its job.

Solid Tacos at Grand Electric

Grand Electric Trinity BellwoodsLocation: 923 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: http://grandelectrictoronto.com/

Though Grand Electric doesn’t get nearly the amount of buzz that it did when it first opened, it’s still chugging along.  In fact, they’ve just recently opened a new location a bit further east on Queen (though it’s still on the west end of the city).

When I visited the original location a few years ago, they had some pretty out-there stuff on the menu, like a scrapple taco and pig head fries.

Grand Electric Trinity Bellwoods

The menu here is much less ambitious than that — there’s nothing beyond the usual suspects (chicken, fried fish, etc.).

It might not be particularly exciting, but if the two tacos I tried were anything to go by, they still know exactly what they’re doing.

Grand Electric Trinity Bellwoods

The first one I tried was the shrimp taco, which consists of a few generously-sized pieces of fried shrimp topped with a zesty sauce, lettuce, onion, and cilantro.

The shrimp is nicely seasoned and perfectly cooked, with a crunchy exterior that doesn’t overwhelm.  The sauce basically tastes like a variation on shrimp sauce, and the other components add a good amount of freshness.  It’s a solid taco.

Grand Electric Trinity Bellwoods

Up next was the Carne Asada, which features steak topped with cilantro, chopped onions, and a couple of salsas.  This was even better than the shrimp; the steak was super tender and very nicely marinated, with a nice vibrant flavour that never overwhelms its beefiness.  And the salsas compliment it perfectly.

Great Tex-Mex Tacos at Hotmess Tex Mex

Hotmess Tex MexLocation: 615 College Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.hotmesstexmex.com/

Hotmess was selling tacos at the recent Taste of Little Italy festival; having heard nothing but good things about their Tex-Mex grub, tying it out was a no-brainer.

They were doing beef, chicken, and corn tacos; I went with beef.  It was quite good.

It’s very simple: spiced beef, diced tomato, shredded lettuce, and cheddar cheese served in a hard shell tortilla.

Hotmess Tex Mex

It’s basically Taco Bell if Taco Bell were really, really good.

The beef was nicely spiced, and unlike Taco Bell, it actually has the taste and texture of beef.  How about that!  The lettuce and tomato are fresh and crunchy, and the cheese adds a nice salty bite.

The shell is probably the highlight, oddly enough.  It’s obviously freshly fried, and it’s glorious — the level of crunch is profound.  It’s ridiculously satisfying.