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.
First, a newsworthy fact: Agave Y Aguacate is now permanently closed. Chef Francisco Alejandri, whose delicately balanced Mexican soul food drew devotees from all over Toronto to his tiny food stall, says he’s winding down his last month at the El Gordo Latin food court at 214 Augusta Avenue, in Kensington Market. His booth there—which was really nothing more than a table with a couple induction burners and a deep fryer on it—was becoming too difficult to work with.
“It has to do with the organization and the cleanliness of the place,” Alejandri says. “It’s not what I want for my customers. It was good when I started, but it hasn’t changed, and I just can’t deal with it anymore.”
Recently, Alejandri said, El Gordo has been doing some renovations that have left his station covered in dust, forcing him to take days off. Fridge and storage space have been problematic. Also, as anyone who ever braved the lineups at Agave Y Aguacate can attest, the venue was much too small to accommodate lunch-rush demand.
Alejandri is no longer serving food, and he’s already moving his equipment out. He says he’s in the process of making a deal with an investor interested in funding a full-fledged Agave Y Aguacate restaurant, but that it will likely be six months to a year before those plans come to fruition.
This is an abrupt end to a food stall that, despite its small size, managed to turn Alejandri’s life around. Before starting it in February 2011, he was a chef with a good resume (he’d cooked at Scaramouche, Torito, and Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar), but no public profile. He started Agave Y Aguacate partly out of frustration. “I’ve always had a hard time in kitchens,” he says. “People don’t understand my approach to food. I love what I do, I’m very passionate about it. And I’m happy with the talent that I have…but sometimes chefs, or people in the kitchen, they don’t get me. They think that I’m too much, that I’m crazy, whatever.”
His menu of gourmet variations on favourites from his childhood in Mexico, prepared with a perfectionist’s eye for detail right in front of patrons, put him on the map. Now it’s not a stretch to call him a citywide culinary celebrity.
For reasons described below, Alejandri does not make tacos, so we’re bending the rules of this series for him. His tostadas are worthy of inclusion because they’re the stuff of foodie legend—especially now that they’re no longer available. (Sorry about that. It was not our intention at the outset to tease you with a thing you can’t eat.)
He’s particularly proud of his green tostada, a meatless recipe that showcases his homemade sauces.
The tortilla: Alejandri will not serve tacos in Toronto, because no local corn tortillas meet his standards. He does tostadas instead, because the tortilla is deep-fried to a crisp, which in his opinion masks any inferior flavour or texture. “Everything that’s fried tastes the same,” he said. Instead of sprinkling salt on the hot, crispy rounds when they come out of the fryer, he sprays them with a half-and-half mixture of salt and water. The water evaporates instantly, leaving his tortillas with an evenly dispersed, invisible layer of seasoning.
Guacamole: Made to order for each and every tostada. Alejandri halves an avocado, grates in garlic, adds hot peppers and coriander, and then grinds it in a mortar and pestle. Each portion also gets a squeeze of lime juice.
Queso Fresco: This cheese was the inspiration for the entire dish. It comes from Monteforte Dairy, whose owner Alejandri met while he was teaching at the Stratford Chef School. He finds this particular queso fresco (a type of mild, white cheese) to be exceptionally creamy and well seasoned.
Tomatoes: “We take the tomato, we cut it in half, and we slice it in front of the customer, paper thin,” said Alejandri.
Crema Fresca: A homemade mixture of cream and yogurt, strained overnight then mixed with lime juice and left to sit for a day.
Gaujillo Sauce: “It’s an incredible sauce, and it’s very simple,” says Alejandri, greatly overestimating the level at which many home cooks would set the bar for “simple.” This spicy condiment consists of dried guajillo chiles and broiled tomatoes, pureed together with fresh garlic, white onions, white vinegar, and salt.
The Bottom Line:
Price: $8 each, but not available for the time being.
Tasting Notes: We were unable to taste the tostada before Agave Y Aguacate closed down.
Eat it When: Alejandri opens a new restaurant.