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).

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.

Great Fish Tacos at Seven Lives

Seven LivesLocation: 69 Kensington Avenue, Toronto
Website: http://sevenlives.restaurantsnapshot.com/

Seven Lives serves what is frequently called the best fish taco in the city, which makes deciding what to order there quite easy.  It’s the fish taco.  It’s gotta be the fish taco.

I’ve actually been wanting to try this place for quite a while, but it’s popular; the place routinely has a line-up going out the door, and it’s a tiny restaurant.  If you don’t get a seat on one of the two benches out front, or at the one table inside, you’re out of luck.  You’ll just have to eat and walk, which is a bit of a challenge with their generously-stuffed tacos.

Seven Lives

It’s worth the wait and the hassle.  It is as advertised: it’s clearly one of the best fish tacos in the city, if not the best.

It consists of a very generous piece of fried haddock topped with cabbage, pico de gallo, and a garlicky sauce.  Everything works really well together.  The fish, in particular, is delicious; it’s super tender and flaky with a very satisfying crispy exterior that never overwhelms the fish itself.

Seven Lives

The toppings are great — the cabbage and the pico de gallo add some nice freshness and crunch (not to mention an acidity that helps cut through the fried fish), and the creamy sauce brings a nice garlicky bite.

My only real issue here are the two corn tortillas, which were a bit stale (corn tortillas are one of those things that pretty much have to be consumed within minutes rather than hours of being cooked — they get stale fast).  But that’s a minor complaint for an otherwise superlative taco.

Average Mexican Food at Cinco Mexican Restaurant

Cinco Mexican RestaurantLocation: 131 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.cinco.restaurant/

Cinco is an unassuming Mexican restaurant on Roncesvalles that’s been serving up tacos and rotisserie chicken for about a year.  Nothing about it particularly stands out, but if you’re in the area, I’m sure you could do worse.

I tried a couple of things.  The first was the cochinita pibil taco: “marinated braised pork in adobo, six hour slow-cooked pork belly, queso oaxaca, topped with habanero onions.”

Cinco Mexican Restaurant

It wasn’t bad, though I wish they had taken the same amount of meat and split it into two tacos, because it’s kind of absurd.

The bites where you get a bit of everything — the shredded pork, the cilantro, the pickled onions — are really good.  But there’s such a heaping mound of meat that many (most?) of the mouthfuls are pork, pork, and nothing but pork.

Cinco Mexican Restaurant

This wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing, but the pork was quite dry despite being shockingly greasy (seriously, the amount of oil dripping out of the taco was insane.  The entire plate was swimming in it by the time I finished).

Still, it was tasty enough — the adobo-braised pork was tasty, the two blue corn tortillas were nice and fresh (the thin layer of cheese between them was a nice touch, but it was a bit too subtle to add much to the overstuffed taco), and the mouthfuls with a bit of everything had a nice balance of richness from the meat and acidity from the pickles.

Cinco Mexican Restaurant

I also tried the the chicken quesadilla, a daily special.  This was a bit of a head-scratcher; it was filled with pieces of plain chicken, and… that’s about it.  No cheese, no other ingredients (that I could taste, at least), just a whole bunch of stale-tasting chicken chunks.  But it was fine, I guess — especially once I started dipping it into the pool of porky grease from the taco.