Rise & Shine to a Mexican Fiesta! Weekend Brunch in the Beaches at Xola

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Rise and shine to a Mexican fiesta!  If you’re looking for a weekend brunch spot to add to your list of foodie escapades, head to Xola in the Beaches.  Located in the east end of the city on Queen Street East, Xola is a fun and colourful cantina serving up delicious weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner options with Mexican flair and flavour.  Truth be told, I stumbled on Xola last summer during a day out in the Beaches neighbourhood but didn’t get around to eating here until I did an assignment for Eat In Eat Out magazine for their feature on Mexican restaurants earlier in the year but because I’ve been so on and off with blogging for the last little while I haven’t gotten the chance to post about them here on Ate by Ate until now.  Phew!  It’s actually not such a bad thing now that I think about it because the weather is beautiful now which makes Xola’s fun and fiery interior and menu pop that much more.  It screams summer more than it screams winter in January!  Before I dive right into divulging the yummy details of my first meal here though, let me rewind and talk a little bit about the assignment I took on that led me back to Xola in the first place.

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When I took on the assignment for Eat In Eat Out magazine knowing that it was for a feature on Mexican restaurants across Canada, I wanted to approach it in a non-traditional way.  I didn’t particularly want to choose any old Mexican restaurant in Toronto for lunch.  So I racked my brain for something different, something special.  The light blub came on and Xola came to mind.  I quickly searched through my photos from last summer for the photo I took of Xola’s menu taped to their front window, did a little digging online, and found out to my utter delight that they served weekend brunch on Saturdays!  Seeing as how Mexican weekend brunch is a pretty neat and unique thing in Toronto (it’s not like the city is crawling with places that serve it.  Not yet anyway), I knew it was the perfect place to write about.  And it totally and wholeheartedly was.

Xola is barely a year old but I’ve seen and heard folks talk about lineups out the door some nights!  Thankfully for me I was planning on having my meal during the day and arriving right when they opened at 12 noon so I wasn’t too fussed or worried about that.  I was much more interested in what I was going to stuff my face in.  Xola’s weekend brunch menu, served on Saturdays from 12pm-2pm, serves everything from burritos with slow braised beef and slow braised pork to fish tacos, omelettes with goat cheese, and THREE kinds of huevos rancheros with fresh corn tortillas, eggs, chorizo sausage, potatoes, different salsas, sour cream, fresco, and black beans among other dishes.  Prices range from $8-$15, making it an incredibly affordable weekend brunch spot.  NOTE: Xola accepts CASH ONLY.  They are a CASH ONLY establishment much like Lady Marmalade in Leslieville.

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When I think back to this meal and this visit, I smile because everything about Xola is just so fun and vibrant.  They have this gorgeous, colourful mural on one wall that I love to pieces and while the place is small, they more than make up for it in flair, food, and personality.  For weekend brunch that day I enjoyed a handful of yummy things: a cold and delicious glass of horchata ($3.50), a Mexican drink made with rice, milk and cinnamon; a ridiculously large dish of chilaquiles ($9): homemade tortilla chips covered in creamy red salsa, drizzled with sour cream and sprinkled queso fresco cheese; trio de gorditas ($8.95), my meal of corn masa patties topped with an assortment of refried beans, red salsa, and green salsa with sour cream and queso fresco cheese and served with guacamole and scrambled eggs; and last, but not least, a freshly made Mexican margarita!

I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything so much because they were all delicious in their own way and because all this food was so new to me, I was seeing it with fresh eyes and tasting it with fresh tastebuds.  The horchata drink was so unbelievably delicious.  It was like dessert in drink form.  It had just enough sweetness from the cinnamon and the milk and rice gave it substance while the ice kept it cold and refreshing throughout the meal.

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The chilaquiles?  Out of this freakin’ world.  This is like the appetizer to end all appetizers.  So messy but so fun!  The red salsa (which is the consistency of a sauce, not to be mistaken with the pico de gallo style of salsa) is thick and creamy and with the sour cream and queso fresco, there was savouriness, there was tanginess and of course there was fun and crunch from the tortilla chips.  My trio de gorditas dish makes my weekend brunch and breakfast-loving heart all warm and fuzzy because the inclusion of scrambled eggs just screams happy breakfast to me.  It makes me think of warm sun streaming in through windows, hot eggs coming out of sizzling pan, and enjoying that first meal of the day on those wonderful weekend mornings where the remainder of the day stretches out in front of you and the possibilities for loveliness are endless.

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And finally, the margarita!  I know, I know, I don’t drink!  But my server was so sweet and so gracious that the drink was on the house so I did what any good patron would do: I thanked her profusely and enjoyed it.  Not all of it because I’m such a lightweight when it comes to alcohol (drinking is honestly not my thing) but enough to know that heck, it was REALLY good!  The lime just made it so juicy and refreshing and for me, it helped to tame the strength of the tequila.  At the very least, you all know now that you can certainly raise a happy glass here!

So, if you’re looking to enjoy Mexican food in a fun and different way, Xola in the Beaches is just the ticket.  Happy Friday and early weekend, everyone!

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*****

Xola is located at 2222A Queen Street East in the Beaches neighbourhood in Toronto. Weekend brunch is served on Saturdays from 12pm to 2pm. Operating hours all other days: Monday (5pm-9pm), Tuesday (closed); Wednesday to Friday (12pm-3pm for lunch, 5pm-closing for dinner); Saturday (12pm-closing); Sunday (4pm-closing).  CASH ONLY.

Roasted Tomatillo, Jalapeno Black Bean, & Chunky Guac – A Photo Spotlight on Mad Mexican Dip & Spread Delights!

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You won’t believe what I did on Saturday.  Or maybe you will based on how well you know me and my craziness passion for food!  I ran out out of my beloved dips and spreads from Mad Mexican.  You know, the ones I purchased during my last visit to Evergreen Brick Works last month.  Me, my mum, and my brother gorged on Tw0-Way Jalapeno Black Bean dip and Roasted Tomatillo and Avocado salsa and polished them off in a heartbeat, spreading them on grilled tortillas, dipping samosas, falafel, and chicken nuggets in them, and mixing them into a little bit of rice for that yummy kick of flavour.  These dips and spreads are SO, SO delicious and realizing that I had nothing left in my fridge made me so sad.

So against my better judgment, I rushed over to Evergreen Brick Works after noon hour on Saturday for a quickie trip.  And I do mean quickie!   I caught the shuttle at Broadview station, hopped off at the Brick Works, speed-walked to Mad Mexican’s table at the market, quickly chose 2 dips from what they had left, and caught the next shuttle back, all in a matter of half an hour.  In the sweltering heat.  Interrupting my day of planned blogging activity.  All for dip.  I am a nut.  But I am happy nut now because now I have a fresh new container of their Roasted Tomatillo and Avocado and a deliciously delightful Chunky Guac!  I cursed and whined with every step to the streetcar and shuttle stop in the sticky heat, but I’m so glad I bit the bullet and shoved aside my wussy baby feelings for these guys because it was well worth it.  They currently have 6 dips, spreads, and salsas to choose from including a spicy salsa verde, a juicy pico de gallo, and a morita salsa made from dried, smoked morita peppers.  They’re $6 a pop with discounted rates available for multiple purchases with their delicious corn chips.

I’ve really relied on the farmers’ market at Evergreen Brick Works to get my fix but after reading over their list of retailers and shops where there products can be found, I’ll most likely check out some of the spots just to see what they have if I don’t happen to have Evergreen market plans on a Saturday.  Mad Mexican is always hooked up with Chocosol and Gabriel’s Tortilla Project and Maizal Quesadilla Cafe when they’re at the markets, so it’s triple food fantastic because you get to ogle their Mexican chocolate and drool over and eat their mouthwatering corn tortillas and quesadillas while you’re there!  Mad Mexican makes some of my very favourite spreads and dips so if you get the chance, definitely give them a whirl and just be careful when you do, because you’ll never want your kitchen and palate to go without them every again!

*****

Mad Mexican is a Toronto-based business specializing in gourmet Mexican food products.  They are located in the west end at 383 Jane Street, just south of Annette Street to the east and Baby Point Rd. to the west (Annette Street turns into Baby Point Rd. at Jane and vice versa).  Your best best though is to purchase their products from retailers and farmers’ market if you can’t conveniently access the west end.  You can find Mad Mexcian at the Saturday farmers’ market at Evergreen Brick Works from 8am-1pm and their products in a slew of different food shops around the city including Noah’s Natural Foods, Summerhill Market, The Big Carrot, Fresh & Wild, and many more.  You can check out the comprehensive list of retailers HERE!

Sweet & Spicy – The Rich Creaminess of a Crema De Chocolate With Mexican Chilies at Milagro, Part II

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Oh, how sweet it is to cap off a fabulous meal with something…spicy?!  That’s right, folks.  Here at Milagro, the decadent, the sweet, and the spicy strut their stuff together on the runway that is their dessert menu with punchy, spicy chocolates, rich and creamy caramels, and refreshing fruits with a kick of heat.  With such an impressive menu of regional Mexican mains and appetizers, I was beyond excited to dig into whatever they offered for dessert and to my delight, there were more than a few options to tantilize my taste buds! 

Milagro’s dessert menu is comprised of tequilas (digestivos for the end of a meal), coffees and Mexican drinking chocolate, and sweet and spicy dessert creations.  Their menu lists 5 different dessert dishes (priced $6.95 to $8.95), but there’s actually 6 because one of them is a dessert special that changes on a regular basis, based on what’s in season and what’s appropriate for the season.  On this particular day, Milagro’s special dessert was a juicy and refreshing homemade mango ice cream with chili peppers!  I KNOW, you can’t get this anywhere else!   And while it’s something you’d never expect, it completely makes sense because Milagro utilizies spices and manipulates heat in all their dishes to create food that is uniquely their own but still very much in keeping with traditional, authentic flavours and techniques that have deep historical roots in Mexican cuisine. 

      

The 5 desserts listed on their menu include a Flan Con Caramelo (cheese flan with caramel sauce), Trufa Maya (Mexican chocolate truffle), Frutas Con Crema (fresh fruits and berries with sweet crema), Natilla De Cajeta (bruléed goat’s milk caramel custard), and my pick, the Crema De Chocolate, a Mexican chocolate and creama mousse!  Mexican chocolate is something you would find at ChocoSol in its raw, pure form, whether its in thick, round disks, as Mexican drinking chocolate, or in rich, delicious chocolate vegan cookies.  The usage of spices (cinnamon, tamales, chilies, achiote, allspice, and others) is exactly what makes Mexican chocolate distinctive along with its natural, raw, dark bitterness.  This uniqueness completely shines through via this decadent, velvety smooth dessert because only at Milagro will you find a dainty chocolate mousse that will bat its sweet eyelashes at you on the first bite and then turn around to give you a kick in the pants with a rapid succession of little bursts of heat!

The Crema De Chocolate is a rich, velvety smooth Mexican chocolate mousse dessert with two layers of chocolate (one lighter, one darker), blueberries, a spig of mint, chocolate shavings, and – wait for this – Mexican chilies!  You have this glass filled with rich, creamy, airy mousse and as you’re spooning the delightful chocolate in your mouth, you get punched with tiny beads of chilies!  Spicy chocolate may not be mainstream per se in Canadian cuisine, but is it ever a stand-by in Mexican.  I’ve only ever seen spicy chocolate on The Food Network (one of the chefs on “Best Thing I Ever Ate” was raving about this spicy chocolate ice cream in the States) and at farmers’ markets where ChocoSol sells their 5 Chili Bullet flavour as part of their selection of Mexican chocolate.  Otherwise, spicy chocolate has for the most part been unexplored terrain for me up until this point. 

I tried to capture the texture of the chocolate mousse as best I could, but you have to taste it to truly believe it.  The chocolate mousse is so incredibly nuanced in both flavour and texture and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever had.  The mousse is so deliciously fudgy, cocoa-y, and creamy with that unmistakable bitterness that is inherent in real chocolate.  It is not a “sweet” dessert in the sugary sense of the word and it demonstrates beautifully how a dessert doesn’t have to be oozing with sugar to taste amazing.  The texture is perfect because it’s not too thick and dense but it’s also not too airy; it has substance and body to it so that it actually sits and melts in your mouth, letting the flavours sink in. 

And the chilies!  All throughout the dessert there were the tiniest of red beads and they gave off little bursts of spiciness and heat to kick the chocolate mousse up a notch.  The level of spice wasn’t overwhelming and I really think the creaminess of it mellows everything out, from the chilies in the dessert to the spices that might still be lingering from the scrumptiousness of dinner.  It’s a dessert that has so much flair and complexity in terms of flavour and texture and yet, the simplicity of it as a whole is what makes it so special.

*****

Milagro Cantina Mexicana serves 3 locations in Toronto:

  1. 5 Mercer Street in downtown Toronto, between King Street West and Wellington St. West, just west of David Pecaut Square and Roy Thomson Hall in the Entertainment and Theatre District.  They are open 7 days a week from 11:30am-10pm Monday-Wednesday, 11:30am-10:30pm Thursday & Friday, 3pm-10:30pm on Saturdays and 3pm-9pm on Sundays.
  2. 783 Queen Street West by Trinity Bellwoods Park, between Euclid and Manning Ave. west of Bathurst St.  They are open 7 days from 5pm-10pm Monday-Wednesday, 12 noon-10pm on Thursdays, 12 noon-11pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 12 noo -9pm on Sundays.  The Queen West location serves weekend brunch!
  3. 3187 Yonge Street in uptown Toronto, north of Lawrence Ave. by Ranleigh Ave.  They are open 7 days a week from 5pm-9pm Monday-Wednesday, 12 noon-9pm on Thursdays, 12 noon-10pm on Fridays, 2pm-10pm on Saturdays, and 2pm-9pm on Sundays.   

A Life-Long HG – The Remarkable Rare Tuna, Chipotle Mayo Mexican Tostadas at Milagro Cantina Mexicana, Part I!

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Your heart fills with joy.  You can’t stop thinking and gushing about it.  And as soon as it’s over, you can’t wait to come back for more.  It’s the ultimate in first dates…with food!  Call it infatuation, call it true love; when you’ve found a holy grail place to eat, nothing else comes close.  It is truly one of the best feelings in the world when you finish a delicious, wonderfully foodgasmic meal and think, “Can I live and eat here for the rest of my life?!”  Maybe taking up residence is a little unreasonable, but solidifying an eatery as a life-long dining destination is not. 

We all have them.  Those go-to places that we keep going back to over and over again because they are just that damn good.  Maybe it’s the diner around the corner from your house.  Maybe it’s a bakery in the next town over.  Or maybe it’s that fancy place in the city that you’re more than happy to splurge your hard-earned wages on several times a year.  Wherever the place may be, it’s a place that makes you happy, excited, and probably pretty darn full by the end!  My group of favourites will need to make room for a new member because Mexican powerhouse, Milagro Cantina Mexicana, has smoldered its way into my heart and into my list of holy grails!

Milagro, located smack dab in the downtown core at 5 Mercer Street between King and Wellington (with two other locations in Toronto), is a Mexican food lover’s dream.  Not only is their menu incredibly reasonable in price (a possible $12 for dinner?!), it is also a treasure chest of regional Mexican dishes and ingredients that speak to the diversity of Mexican cuisine and culture: red snapper ceviche with mango and serrano; Tijuana caesar salad, Yucatan pulled pork in achiote; Michoacán style braised pork; Pachuca style lamb slow roasted in a banana leaf; and LOTS of mouthwatering favourites including Oaxaca cheese, fresh corn tortillas, tostadas, enchiladas, burritos, and so much more. 

One very memorable moment during my first visit to Milagro was what my server said to my boyfriend and I.  He asked, “have you ever been to Milagro before?” to which we replied no, it was our first visit.  “Well, you’re in for a treat then!”  Words have never rang more true.  They are so, so committed to bringing authentic flavours, dishes, and ingredients to the table and it is mind-blowing how delicious their food is.  Gone are the stereotypes of Mexican food as being a one-track taco machine.  Milagro doesn’t just banish them – they chew them up and spit them out. 

What makes me so revved up is their variety.  And their prices.  Sure, there are some $18, $19, and $20 items on it, but a majority of their dishes fall under the $10-$15 bracket and for authentic Mexican food at this level of quality and quantity, it is beyond worth it and absolutely affordable as a life-long holy grail.  And the variety of food is remarkable – if you’re a meat-eater!  I’ll preface this by saying that while there are some vegetarian options, there aren’t many, so just keep that in mind if you’re vegetarian or if you have vegetarian friends you enjoy dining with.  Their variety lies in the different types of meat and their cooking styles.  Seafood (snapper, shrimp, rare tuna, octopus), rib-eye, lamb, chicken, pulled pork, and chorizo in grilled, marinated, slow cooked and roasted forms are just some of what you can find on the menu. 

Everything about their food is spot on.  Their portions are fantastic (my boyfriend could only comfortably finish half his burrito.  And he’s a boy!), their ingredients are so, so fresh, and EVERYTHING has a spicy kick in the pants.  There’s even a disclaimer on the menu warning everyone that the food is spicy!  If heat is your foe, don’t freak out.  It’s not “oh my dear god, I need a fire extinguisher in my mouth!”, it’s more like, “woo, that is some damn good stuff”.  Insert a few gulps of water and puffs of air here.  Trust me on this one.  My heat tolerance is at medium-strength and while there was definite spicy kick in every single bite of food, the heat doesn’t linger for very long.  A few minutes later, the sensation was gone for me and I had completely forgotten that I had downed half my glass of water.  You’ll feel it at first, but it’s the type of heat that makes eating spicy food fun, not painful.

For my first visit to Milagro, I went with the Tostadas De Atun ($12.95): crispy, crunchy corn tortillas in the shape of round disks piled high with fresh diced cubes of rare tuna and thick wedges of avocado, smothered in chipotle mayo with crispy fried onion on top.  You know, the stuff you normally get on a traditional dish of meatloaf.  Anyway.  OH.MY.GOD.  MULTIPLIED BY A MILLION.  !!!  I would continue on with the exclamation points but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s eyes so I’ll leave it at three.  BUT OH MY LORD.  This ranks in my Top 10 of best dinners ever.  Possibly even Top 10 best dishes in general.  This was SO, SO delicous and scrumptiously good. 

The rare tuna was so soft and moist, the crunchy, crispy strands on top gave the dish a punch of salty savouriness, the tortillas were so full of warm corn flavour and if I’m not mistaken, the tostadas were drizzled with some olive oil that, combined with everything else, created a dance party in my mouth.  And the mayo.  OH MY GOD THE CHIPOTLE MAYO.  The mayo, in combination with the mouthfuls of creamy avocado and cubes of tuna was unbelievable.  The mayo made this dish.  It was creamy, spicy, and honestly something I’d spread on just about anything and everything.  I could not get over how delicious these rare tuna tostadas were.  And how they reminded me of sushi!  With the exception of the tortillas and crunchy bits, it was almost as if someone had deconstructed the most amazing spicy tuna and avocado rolls with spicy mayo and placed the mountain of goodness on Mexican corn tortillas.  Purely fantastical.

And to cap off one of the most amazing dinners in my life?  Why, Mexican dessert of course!  That’s for tomorrow.  What can I say, I like to be a bit of a tease.  When it comes to good food, it is so worth the wait.            

*****

Milagro Cantina Mexicana serves 3 locations in Toronto:

  1. 5 Mercer Street in downtown Toronto, between King Street West and Wellington St. West, just west of David Pecaut Square and Roy Thomson Hall in the Entertainment and Theatre District.  They are open 7 days a week from 11:30am-10pm Monday-Wednesday, 11:30am-10:30pm Thursday & Friday, 3pm-10:30pm on Saturdays and 3pm-9pm on Sundays.
  2. 783 Queen Street West by Trinity Bellwoods Park, between Euclid and Manning Ave. west of Bathurst St.  They are open 7 days from 5pm-10pm Monday-Wednesday, 12 noon-10pm on Thursdays, 12 noon-11pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 12 noo -9pm on Sundays.  The Queen West location serves weekend brunch!
  3. 3187 Yonge Street in uptown Toronto, north of Lawrence Ave. by Ranleigh Ave.  They are open 7 days a week from 5pm-9pm Monday-Wednesday, 12 noon-9pm on Thursdays, 12 noon-10pm on Fridays, 2pm-10pm on Saturdays, and 2pm-9pm on Sundays.   

Partying Alongside Peppers, Corn, and Beans – A Spotlight on the Best Shrimp Burritos at Burrito Boyz!

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I’ve come to the realization that I just love seafood tacos and burritos (and veggie ones!) more than I love ones that have poultry or red meat in them.  I daydream about having seared ahi tuna tacos, flaky white fish on corn tortillas with seafood sauce (or tartar sauce) and guacamole, fish with tons of beans and corn and peppers, and finally, the shrimp burritos and quesadillas from Burrito Boyz!  Although I have a mega soft spot for the mind-blowingly delicious pulled pork taquitos from Tequila Sunrise just down the street on Adelaide St. West, I can’t get over how delightful the seafood burritos and quesadillas are at BB, especially the shrimp ones.

If you love seafood and if you enjoy noshing on big burritos of amazing quality, you need to eat and savour the shrimp here.  I love shrimp and it’s the honest to goodness truth when I say that I haver never had shrimp that tasted this wonderful, not even in dim sum!  Shrimp in dim sum is heavenly, but the shrimp burritos at Burrito Boyz?  Out of this world and over the moon.  The burritos (shrimp ones are $7.08 for a small and $7.96 for a large) are stuffed with jumbo shrimps that are soft, juicy, and plump and, given how all the prices at Burrito Boyz are under $10, you really appreciate the quantity and quality of food.  A large burrito could easily feed me for two meals and during my very first Burrito Boyz meal two and a half years ago, even my small veggie burrito rewarded me with leftovers to eat on the bus ride home at the end of the day!

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It was my lucky day – Burrito Boyz wise – the day I had this fabulous shrimp burrito because if you’re familiar with the popular eatery or if you remember the first post I made about them back in July, you’d know that crowds line up out the door for the great food here.  There must have been a guardian angel looking out for me because for the first time in two and a half years, I passed by the famous T.O. burrito hole-in-the-wall, glanced through the front window, and saw several empty seats beckoning at me like blinking radars.

I could not believe my eyes.  There were spots to sit?!  There wasn’t a line curving around the ordering and waiting area and up the stairs, out the front door?!  People weren’t shouting orders at the top of their lungs so they could be heard over the chatter of the hungry?!  I didn’t have to stand outside right at 11am and run inside to snag a spot?!  Well, colour me shocked and ecstatic!  Opportunities like this didn’t come easy (or at all, really) so I pounced and had myself one of the most delicious lunches ever.

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You have free reign when it comes to toppings – if you don’t like it, don’t pick it!  Along with refried beans and rice, and sour cream on the side (I love dunking stuff in or spooning it on myself), I chose black beans, corn, lettuce, green peppers, green onions, guacamole, and burrito sauce to party-harty alongside the juicy, scrumptious shrimps.  The combination of toppings was fantastic and I can say with absolute certainty that THIS is my favourite burrito from here!  It took a few tries to hit the nail on the head, but the process leading up to uncovering my ultimate favourite was incredibly yummy and enjoyable.  If every process was like this, we’d be smooth sailing.

*****

Burrito Boyz is located at 218 Adelaide St. West, west of Simcoe St. and east of Duncan St.  They have a number of locations in Toronto and the GTA, including Bramption, Mississauga, Streetsville, and Waterloo.  Their 2nd Toronto location resides in the neighbourhood of Little Italy at 575 College St. West, just west of Manning Ave. in between Bathurst St. and Ossington Ave.  For more info on their menu and other locations, click here.

A Mexican Food and Grocery Emporium! Zucchini & Veggie Tacos and the Roasted Taste of Corn at La Tortilleria Market

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I had no idea what I was walking into when I pulled open the door to La Tortilleria.  I should have though.  The storefront clearly said La Tortilleria Market with the words, “convenience” and “Mexican products” right underneath, alongside “fresh tortillas daily”.  I think I was so excited about trying a place I had wanted to try for ages that all logic escaped through my head and into the chilly air.  That and because I was so ready for lunch, I was hungry!

Anyway, I should have had an inkling as to the type of establishment I was about to step into, but it didn’t register at the time.  All I knew I was that I was excited about having Mexican food for lunch and that I would most likely be faced with the hard decision of deciding between quesadillas, tacos, and possibly burritos.  All thoughts of what to feed my hungry stomach momentarily seized though after I stepped inside.  I was expecting giant menu boards, some tables and chairs to sit and eat, and mouthwatering photos of food to entice the Mexican lover in me.  I got much more than I expected.

I had walked right into a Mexican food and grocery emporium!  OH.MY.GOD.  I actually said that out loud as I entered through the swinging entrance barricade.  Sigh.  How graceful of me.  I was in awe though.  I had never been to a Mexican grocery store before!  Chinese supermarkets?  Since the day I was born.  Polish mini market?  Just this past late summer.  I’ve even been to a Filipino grocery mart.  But a Mexican grocery store?  Oh, this was divine.  La Tortilleria is not only a sit-down spot to nosh on Mexican comfort food hot off the press, but the Bloor & Dufferin location is also a Mexican supermarket with everything from Mexican corn chips and tortillas to pantry staples to bulk spices to traditional Mexican pastries and baked goods.

The grocery mart is divided into different aisles and sections and each aisle and section is devoted to a specific type of food.  La Tortilleria has shelves of canned and dry pantry items such as chipotle, jalapeno, and serrano peppers, refried beans, hot sauces, cornmeal and maize, tamale and masa flour, Mexican chocolate mixes and coffee, churro mix, dips, condiments, and many others.  The grocery market also has a bulk section with spices as well as a grab n’ go sweets section with Mexican pastries, cookies, and churros.  Amidst all the Mexican grocery goodness is the hot food counter where you can order La Tortilleria’s hot and fresh corn tacos and tortillas to-go or to enjoy at the sit-down seating area.  Menu items range from $6-$10 and aside from the tortilla bundles, all the menu items are meals, meaning they’re meant to be eaten as a full meal or as sharing plates.  You won’t find single tacos here!  Go big or go home.

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It’s Crab Cake Day on Ate by Ate! Crispy Crab Cakes With Cabbage Slaw and Chipotle Mayo at La Mexicana

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It’s Crab Cake Day on Ate by Ate today!  I’m quite excited because this is the first of many crab cake posts to come!  Now before I get into all the delicious crab cake details, I want to share and discuss some blog related goodies with you all first.  You guys are well aware of how much I love thinking in and working with themes and categories, and I’m always thinking of new things to add to the blog.  When I first started Ate by Ate, I brainstormed a number of categories and had a backlog of material ready so that I’d be ready to go when I launched and went “live”.  I started off with the categories I knew I wanted to attack and come back to over and over again such as the Cupcake Chronicles, the Sushi Bar, and the Veggie Eats.  Over the past year, I continued adding to the list (which has grown like a beanstalk as you can tell from the right hand sidebar!) and not too long ago I came up with a great idea, thanks to an amazing beauty blogger.

Along with food stuffs, I’m a beauty junkie (someday I should show you all my lip gloss collection!) and I frequent Christine’s beauty empire, Temptalia, on a regular basis.  I was majorly inspired by her series, “5 Ways” and in a nutshell, Christine’s posts for “5 Ways” encompass 5 different ways to do wear something or 5 great products in a given category.  Things like 5 ways to wear purple eyeshadow, 5 great teal nail polishes, 5 great coral lipsticks, and so on and so forth.

It got me thinking of all the different ways you could incorporate old and material and her series inspired me to think of a way to do something similar here.  Just think, the possibilities are endless when you put it into the context of food.  I could do 5 great sprinkled donuts, 5 great smoked salmon dishes, 5 great apple baked goods…you get the idea.  And I am so excited about it!  I haven’t introduced this particular series on the blog just yet, but I’m hoping to have the series up and running by the new year.  As you could imagine, it’s going to take a lot of cross referencing, organization, and compiling on my part, not to mention I’ll need to have enough material to make a “5 Great” post for a specific category of food, but I’m up for the challenge!  I can’t wait to get started on it and if you have suggestions or ideas, let me know!  Oh, and if you’re curious as to why I’m bouncing around ideas in this particular post, it’s because crab cakes are going to eventually be a part of the series 😀

These amazing crab cakes are from the wonderful La Mexicana in Yorkville.  La Mexicana is always a huge temptation for both myself and my boyfriend whenever we’re in the area (and Mela Cafe, my favourite vegetarian and vegan place) and I know I’ve found a gem in them because I’m always looking up their menu online and daydreaming about what I’d order during my next visit.  You know a place has your heart when it does crazy things like that to you.  Anyway, I love crab cakes to death.  I don’t eat them often because they’re such a treat to me, but I get incredibly excited at the thought of them.  To my recollection, I’ve only ever had crab cakes 3 times and all 3 times were lovely and delicious, including the lunch I had here at La Mexicana.

Their crab cakes come in sets of two ($8) and are available on both their lunch and dinner menu.  The crab cakes (which are about the size of my palm) are lightly breaded and fried with the most savoury, soft, flaky crab meat you could imagine and are placed on a bed of carrot and cabbage slaw with shredded red and green cabbage and carrot.  You know the crab is real and fresh because when you  break the cakes apart, you see that stringy, shredded quality that’s common with fresh crab meat.  When I ate the cakes, I felt like I had bitten into the meat of the ever-popular messy crab legs.  The crab cakes just melt in your mouth and the breading has that great crispiness to it that’s not so crunchy the cakes are hard and difficult to eat, but not oily crispy either.  The soft, flaky crab meat was mixed with some green onions and red pepper flakes and the cakes were drizzled with chipotle mayo sauce which I LOVED.

The fun thing about crab cakes is not just the different ways they’re breaded but also the different sauces that are served with them.  I remember having crab cakes two and a half years ago at a pub that was served with this tangy seafood sauce that was a cross between salsa and shrimp cocktail sauce and the flavours were completely changed and revamped based on that difference.  The crab cake sauce at La Mexicana is delicious and that very subtle kick of spicy flavour is delicious and it envelopes every part of your mouth with the salty savouriness of the crab meat and breading.

Oh!  And do you all remember the black beans and feta cheese that I had the last time?  I dipped my cod fish empanadas in them that time, but I also discovered that they are amazing with the corn chips that are you given to every table during a meal.  I know because I ordered the creamy black bean side dish again because it’s just that good.  I hope everyone is having a fabulous long weekend and I hope you all enjoy the new upcoming “5 Great” series as much I will preparing for it.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend, everyone!

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La Mexicana is located at 838 Yonge St. in between Yorkville Ave. and Cumberland St., north of Bloor Street.  They are open 7 days a week at 11am.  They are open until 10pm from Sunday-Thursday and until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  They serve two other locations, so for more info, visit their website here.

Scrapbooking materials used: to be added!