Tacos are a quintessential summer food, perfect for a quick bite on a beautiful day. This year, Toronto finds itself in the midst of a full-blown taco trend, with several purveyors stuffing their tortillas with ingredients far more unique than the usual chicken or beef. Torontoist‘s multi-part series, Tacos of Summer, is your guide to some of the best.
La Carnita began as a pop-up food stand on Toronto’s burgeoning underground food-fest circuit, where it regularly drew massive lineups of hungry foodies and gourmands. (A gourmand is a foodie who hates the word “foodie.”) On June 12—which is today, if you’re reading this the day it was published—they finally opened their own permanent restaurant, at 501 College Street.
The newly renovated space is probably Toronto’s finest taco-eating environment. Walk past a bar stocked with everything from fancy spirits to 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor into a dining room where intentionally makeshift interior-design elements (like chandeliers made of cages full of incandescent lightbulbs) combine with elegant fittings to create an atmosphere that feels both casual and luxurious.
Score a table and you’ll have the opportunity to sample OneMethod—design-director-turned-restaurateur Andrew Richmond’s tacos, which do innovative things with the classic put-stuff-in-a-tortilla format. The highbrow flavours and lowbrow presentation are guaranteed to confuse your taste buds, in a good way.
The menu features a variety of familiar proteins (chorizo, chicken, skirt steak) but a standout is the fish taco, which Richmond calls “In Cod We Trust.”
The five-inch corn tortilla: “We wrestled with the idea of doing smaller, and we still might entertain that,” said Richmond. “I do like the smaller ones, just due the fact that the customer can consume more, and they’re able to try more on the menu.”
Chunks of wild-caught cod: Deep-fried in beer batter. “When we’re feeling like ballers, we get cod cheeks,” said Richmond. “They’re so good. But very expensive.” Even the regular, non-cheek cod meat is moist, light, and delicious.
House-made Mexican crema: It adds a little bit of richness to the mix.
Voltron sauce: “I guess you could call it a secret sauce,” said Richmond. “It uses tamari [a type of premium soy sauce] as a base, which is an Asian influence. And there are a lot of subtle flavours that hearken back to Mexican cuisine.” He claims he can’t recall all the ingredients without notes. The name is a reference to a Japanese cartoon from the 1980s about teenagers who pilot giant robots—though Richmond’s decision to steal the name had more to do with the Wu-Tang Clan’s references to it on their albums.
Red cabbage: Pickled in-house. La Carnita’s chefs use just enough of this stuff so that it adds sourness to every bite without detracting from the rest. It’s kind of like having malt vinegar on fish and chips—but different, because there’s also some crunch.
Green apple: For a barely-detectable hint of sweetness. It goes well with the cabbage.
Cilantro: Just a small, refreshing sprig on top.
The Bottom Line:
Price: All tacos currently are in the $5 range, but Richmond said that may change.
Tasting notes: The key thing about a La Carnita taco is that it has great balance. Everything is present in just the right proportions, and every bite is a nice medley of surprisingly complementary flavours. Also commendable is the fact that the tortillas are never overburdened with filling. You can eat one of these tacos without dropping anything on your plate.
Other notes: True to its roots, La Carnita will be giving away 5,000 editioned artist prints each month. (During its pop-up days, La Carnita gave out art as a way of skirting the City’s food-vending regulations.)
Spiciness: Low (You won’t notice much of a burn.)
Cheesiness: Medium (Crema is almost cheese, right?)
Meatiness: Medium (The helping of fish should be generous enough to satisfy carnivores.)
Veggieness: High (The house-made pickles are a nice touch.)
The Sauce Factor: High (Like Voltron, La Carnita’s sauces are mighty.)
Eat it When: You feel like spending a little extra for something special.