The new Eglinton Location
A former street food vendor and pop-up restaurant sensation, La Carnita moved into its first fixed space in Little Italy nearly 5 years ago."dedicated to injecting Mexican street cuisine and graffiti with a gringo twist." Compliments of Andrew Richmond and Amin Todai, it serves up a nice variety of Mexican street fare in an industrial inspired yet hip setting. Richmond is a self-taught chef and a proficient designer, who wanted to bring the vibrant taqueria scene he'd witnessed down in San Francisco up to Toronto. Todai also with a penchant for design, is a verifiable marketing guru and has been instrumental in the La Carnita brand success thus far.
They've been so successful in fact that their fourth location, near Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto's mid town, opened up on August 6, 2016. Located at 130 Eglinton Avenue East, just before you hit Redpath Ave., La Carnita continues its award-winning formula that has brought it much customer acclaim and accolades since its inception half a decade ago. According to La Carnita's General Manager Eddie Espinola, the new spot has been hopping with activity since they opened:
The comments we've been getting are quite positive. People are consistently saying how amazing it is.
Sporting an industrial yet funky vibe, La Carnita's outside façade is black with white lettering. Its sister business, Sweet Jesus, which caters to the desert crowd, is in the same building. It is differentiated outside by a dark turquoise paint scheme and has a distinctly 1950's ice cream parlour theme inside. Inside of La Carnita, the dark ceilings and walls, wooden tables and chairs, the immense wooden beams across the ceiling and the concrete floors add to this happening feel. A large black and white wallpaper mural along the back wall is intriguing to look at and adds to the visual appeal. A large red neon La Carnita sign anchors one end of the bar, which occupies a fair amount of the front area. Large windows add natural light to the front of the restaurant, while a small fenced off patio punctuated by leafy plants gives patrons the opportunity to eat outdoors and take in the hustle and bustle of mid-town Toronto when the weather is nice.
The menu includes all the beverages and foods one would expect to find in a Mexican restaurant, outside of Mexico that is. The prices range from $3 for some of the non-alcoholic drinks, to $9 plus for the Mexican street corn, some of the other food items and of course items from the alcoholic drinks menu. All told, with my appetizer, main course, desert and two (non-alcoholic) drinks, my bill came to just a shade over $30 (minus the gratuity).
A generous jug of water is already at the table. I order an Horchata, which is a rice milk based beverage with cinnamon and really quenches my thirst. Later on in the meal, I also order up a guava flavoured Jarritos, a Mexican soda pop. There is also an extensive beer, wine, cheladas (beer, lime juice and assorted spices, sauces and peppers) Tequila and Cocktail menu to satiate most people's palates. The beer, tequila and cocktail menu all have several Mexican selections included, so you can make your entire dining experience a truly Mexican affair.
I started out with their famous Mexican street corn for $9.00, which was absolutely delicious, firmly living up to its reputation. It is grilled corn on the cob topped with Mexican crema, queso anejo and arbol and ancho chili powder. A touch spicy but not overly so. All the appetizers are vegetarian with the notable exception of the Mexican meatballs. The other selections include the Tortilla Chips (with a side of guacamole, corn salsa, and spicy bean and smoked queso), Rice and corn Frituras, and Avocado mango salad.
For the main course, they offer up a half dozen different taco selections. According to Richmond, the secret to a good taco is strong contrast and texture. With intriguing names and ingredients lists like In Cod We Trust (cod, voltron sauce, lime crema, pickled red cabbage, green apple & cilantro), Tostada de Ceviche ( albacore tuna, guacamole, coconut milk, habanero, tomato, cucumber), Beef Cheek (ancho braised cheek, lime avocado, green cabbage, pickled jalapeño & crispy shallots, queso anejo, charred pepper sauce), Pollo Frito (crispy chicken thigh, peanut mole,honey, Rossy's hot sauce, green cabbage & salsa fresca) and the Carnita (confit pork, jalapeño sauce, mango salsa, queso añejo, guacamole, chicharron, cilantro). They seem to have succeeded admirably.
They also have daily taco specials. I tried the Saturday special; the El Pollo Loco Taco, which was $4.95. It's made with chicken, pineapple salsa, coconut crème, jalapeno hot sauce and guajilio chili. It was delectable, and certainly displays that contrast and texture that Richmond was aiming for. I would recommend getting two or three of them for a meal, however. While most of the tacos are made with either meat or fish, there is a vegetarian option with the Crispy Cotija (crispy cotija cheese, cauliflower & pinto bean, pickled carrots, chipotle sauce, green onion & cilantro).
A Tres Leche cake (a butter cake soaked in three kinds of milk), with caramel and peaches hit the spot for desert, and is a steal at $7. They also offer churros (a fried dough pastry with cajeta, a syrup made from carmelised goat's milk) and paletas (Mexican popsicles) for desert. If you want an espresso-based drink, tea or an ice cream desert, as previously mentioned, their sister business Sweet Jesus is located within the same building.
The service was excellent, with my server August being very knowledgeable about the menu and explaining the selections with an easy smile. The bar manager Mario and the General Manager Eddie also provided friendly, timely service, a few laughs and all three gents made sure that I and everyone else in the place had a great experience overall. As Mario said to me jokingly near the end of my meal, "make sure to mention how handsome I am!" Done, Mario.
In addition to being infused with a myriad of delicious flavours and textures, and leaving me feeling full, the food and drinks at La Carnita also left me with a healthy and light feeling. The watercolour print that came with the bill (designed by Ben O'Neil a Toronto-based artist), added to the warm vibe I had from the place when I first walked in.
Nearly every month La Carnita teams up with different local or international artists for a limited edition print. The print program was integral to the start-up of La Carnita as a pop-up, which was initiative from OneMethod, a boutique digital and design agency. With the sale of every print they gave away a taco, and these pop-ups continually evolved into the four bricks and mortar locations you know today.
La Carnita's new location is open for lunch and dinner from 11:30am to 10pm Sunday and Monday, and 11:30am to 11pm Tuesday to Saturday. They usually recommend reservations for parties of 4 or more, otherwise you can just drop by. Aside from the busy lunch and dinner hours, you should have little trouble getting seated fairly quickly. You can find them online at www.lacarnita.com and contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (647)-351-0130. As the Mexicans might say before (or during) the eating of a delicious meal such as this, "Provecho!"
Check out also the 501 College Street location review!