Thanks to Suresh Doss, famished foodies on the run have more options than typical street "meat" on a bun. Meals on wheels now include cupcakes, deli sandwiches, popcorn and poutine. And in the case of La Carnita, although more a pop up taqueria than an actual food truck, its tacos, toastadas and churros have been making their way all over town since last year. They've covered so much territory, they're even listed on the Toronto Food Trucks website.
Their pop up extravaganza last April, Uno, a
free, one-night-only celebration of street art and street food was a hit with hipsters. So, it seems, is La Carnita in Little Italy at the same College Street location as the failed Briscola. Obviously a turn-key solution for a popup with no fixed address since it looks pretty much the same as its predecessor, except for the fact that classic Italian has been replaced with Mexican.
But what's exciting on a truck might not necessarily translate to an actual bricks and mortar restaurant unless you rejig just about everything from concept to presentation. Open only two weeks upon our arrival and there's a line up at a locked door. (They take their 5pm opening very seriously.) But what's all the fuss about? Perhaps it's a platter of house-made tortilla chips topped with ancho chili powder with three sides ($13) including a spicy pureed pumpkin seed dip, a zesty chunky guacamole and a silky smooth chicken liver pate, seriously stunning examples of how something as commonplace as chips and dip can be given real culinary importance. Not to mention finally having enough chips without having to ask for a refill. Kudos all around.
But it's certainly hard to figure out how they got all the ingredients of the gordita ($5) into something the size of a toonie: two teensy weensy crispy corn shell's "filled" with pulled pork, a jicama and orange salsa, queso anejo, pickled onion and cilantro. Are you kidding, one bite for five smackers? Tasty, yes; value, not so much!
And since everyone is going on about La Carnita's fish tacos, well we just had to try them. Frankly, it's more than a little disturbing that the only thing inviting about the "In Cod We Trust" ($5) is its name. Though quite tasty with lime crema, green apple and cilantro, the fish batter was tough as armour. And an off-putting stink of pickled cabbage that kept wafting up from the plate wasn't exactly what I'd call an enticing aroma. Wanna great fish taco? Go to Grand Electric. Those are worth lining up for.
A carne asada ($5) fares far better with a tender skirt steak paired with lettuce, mango salsa and queso anejo; as does a chicken ($5) with peanut mole sauce, a refreshing alternative to the usually cloying chocolate.
And how can any Mexican repast end without an order of homemade churros ($5)? This one should have. Much like a sugar donut, these miniscule bites are the size of three baby's finger yet tough enough to gnaw on for hours unless of course you dip them into an accompanying cajeta (similar to a dulce de leche) which helps soften the blow. But for all you popsicle lovers out there, the paleta ($4) with Greek yogurt and chunks of strawberries is perhaps the best semi-fredo on a stick ever created.
Amateur chef Andrew Richmond and Amin Todai worked at a digital and design "anti-firm" where they came up with their master plan to sell limited edition artwork accompanied by free tacos. Not only is the idea genius, the artwork is actually quite inspired. The dark and edgy logo of a skull with pigs for eyes, cilantro and chili peppers for cheekbones is clever. And with every bill you get a small print that you can actually buy for $5. That's all very good, but you've grown up now, guys, and have utility bills, and staff and rent to worry about. With no one questioning the cool factor, it would be smart to invest a bit more energy into your plated "artworks" because the lines can stop just as fast as they began.