La Jungla (2450 Dufferin, at Schell, 647-436-9996) Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and an imported beer. Average main $10. Open daily noon to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
There's more to st. clair's corso Italia than pasta 'n' pizza parlours, soccer supporters' clubs and shops selling pointy shoes. The lively boulevard that stretches from Bathurst to Lansdowne is also home to a high concentration of Latin American cantinas, familiar names like La Cocina de Doña Luz and Mi Tierra.
The local Latino cuisine scene now stretches up to Dufferin and Eglinton, where we find La Jungla, a two-year-old Salvadoran resto in a dreary strip plaza, sandwiched between a jeweller specializing in evil eyes and a cyber-sex boutique.
The bright white storefront is fancier than most, its dozen or so tables topped with linen, the walls hung with World Cup flags, and the short chalkboard menu lists dishes in both English and Spanish. From it, we begin with the house salad ($7), a sharable starter of ripe tomato, sliced avocado and devilled eggs stuffed with tasty tuna on a bed of iceberg dressed with a light, lemony vinaigrette.
We expect the main of ceviche ($10.75) to be shrimp "cooked" in lime juice, but instead it's a disappointing bowl of citrusy soup loaded with crustaceans and little else. However, it would make an excellent first course in a smaller portion with some absorbent bread.
Though it is thin and bordering on well-done, Carne Encebollada grilled flank steak topped with a delicious tangle of carmelized onion and sweet red pepper ($12.75) arrives remarkably tender. Similarly, deep-fried snapper ($12) is surprisingly flaky considering it comes straight from a vat of boiling oil. Both get served with salad (the house minus the deviled eggs), an inconsequential white rice timbale studded with frozen veggies, quite good fries and fabulously caramelized plantain. Even La Jungla's no-nonsense burritos beef or chicken ($5.50) are better than most, plump with succulent meat and creamy avocado.
Draining the last of our horchata chilled rice milk scented with almond and cinnamon ($2) we congratulate ourselves for uncovering yet another of Toronto's hidden dining gems. Just as we're leaving, a pair of fashionistas from one of the nearby designer outlets on Castlefield brush past us in flip-flops on their way to La Jungla's takeout counter to grab a little something to go.
Don't you just hate when that happens?