EL JACAL (1056 Bloor West, at Havelock, 416-244-4447) Complete dinners for $22 per person (lunches $15), including all taxes, tip and a domestic lager. Average main $10/$7. Open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday noon to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 11 pm, Sunday noon to 7 pm. Closed Tuesday. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The news that El Jacalito, that none-more-authentic Mexican cantina located in the basement of a Rexdale bowling alley, has just re-opened on Bloor West near Dufferin should be cause for dancing in the streets.
Regrettably, much of the modest spot's charm has been lost in the relocation downtown. Now situated in the same building that's home to Strickly Salsa (that's not a typo), El Jacalito has had to change its name to El Jacal to get out of its previous lease.
As well, since the new space is a long, narrow storefront, there's no room to stage owner/chefs Antonio and Luz Adriana Romero's terrific Saturday-night folkloric floor show and buffet, the reason this suburban eatery became a foodie fave in the first place.
Luckily, the grub's just as tasty as they'll remember. Smooth guacamole ($6.95) topped with ripe tomato pulp and chopped coriander, sided with crisp corn chips, finishes with unexpected saltiness.
A tasty enchilada threesome stuffed with shredded chicken and caramelized onion still gets sauced with Romero family-recipe mole, while Carne Diablo (both $12.95), an impossibly thin and stringy hanger steak that can't help but be well-done, continues to be doused in rich chipotle cream. Most mains include soupy refried beans and plain tomato rice, thankfully free of nasty frozen veg.
But the real stars of the card are the house tacos, two styles of which are sold by the kilo and make a fantastic instant takeout spread, though the deal's available to eat in as well.
Carnitas ($35) find strands of slow-braised pork lightly zapped with garlic, and Barbacoa de Borrego ($45, Sunday only) gives lamb the same delicious treatment.
Both come with huge cactus 'n' iceberg salads, two hot sauces mild coriander and the Romeros' famous red "tomorrow" sauce and enough steamed 5-inch corn tortillas to make three dozen tacos.
Here's what doesn't work. Though squeaky-clean and recently renovated, the room has the warmth of a refrigerator.
To be fair, the Romeros took over this former sandwich shop with two days' notice, so they've only had time to hang a couple of sombreros on the wall and throw a serape over the cash counter.
Paint the place in bold citrus colours as vibrant as the cooking (for reference, see Johny Banana on Bathurst) and ditch the tacky turista tchotchkes. Fix the name El Jacal sounds like the name of a terrorist.
If El Jacalito is verboten, why not Jacalito instead?
To impress the locals, post some of the many rave reviews the resto has deservedly garnered in the past in the front window.
And for foodies' sake, bring back the Saturday-night mariachi extravaganza, even if it's in truncated form.
After all, who'd do Canoe if there weren't a view?