LA TORTILLERIA (68 Wales, at Leonard, 416-546-5516) Complete meals for $10, including all taxes, tip and a glass of tart sorrel juice. Average main $2.50. Open Sunday to Thursday 10 am to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday to 2 am. Unlicensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Is any other word in the culinary lexicon more overworked than “authentic”?
From jerk chicken to Southern barbecue, foodies are always on the lookout for the real McCoy. Authenticity is their rallying cry, the logic being that watered-down Canadian takes on so-called ethnic cuisines are always inferior to the way it’s done back in the old country.
But as someone one who endured my Scottish grandmother’s Sunday dinners, where everything from roast to pudding was boiled in water, I know all too well that home cooking ain’t necessarily the better deal.
Claiming to serve “authentic Mexican food for everyone,” La Tortilleria only opened a month ago but has already caused a sensation among the local food set. The hook? Unlike every other sombrero resto in town, this Kensington take-away bakes its own tortillas – as many as 2,000 an hour – in a large conveyor oven that dominates the tiny café’s front room. You can buy a kilo of about 40 for only 3 bucks.
But first you’ll have to find the joint. Well off the Market’s beaten track, La Tortilleria has taken over the storefront behind Toronto Western that once housed It’s All Good. Still lost? Look for the hospital’s smokestack, and there she be at the bottom. Now painted blinding yellow, the claustrophobic space has also been expanded to include a couple of tables in the basement. Unless you’re under 5-foot-6, don’t go down there.
Clearly, no one’s here for the decor. Instead, patrons take up every stool at the six-seat lunch counter or patiently wait in line for some of the best tacos in town ($2.50 each, $6.50 for three, $8.50 for four). The Tinga sees shredded chicken and caramelized onion in slightly spicy tomato sauce, while the chicken mole deploys a sly heat, its understated cocoa just one of many players in the spice blend.
The more mellow Alambre features slow-braised beef dressed with strips of sweet green pepper and contrasts nicely with the chili-stoked chorizo, which is mixed with cubed skin-on potato.
Euphemistically described as “pork,” chicharron turns out to be stuffed with dizzyingly delish cubes of stewed pig fat, and calabacitas appear to be freshly diced zucchini and tomato mixed with frozen corn, peas and carrots. Sometimes a spoonful of rice is added, sometimes not, and there’s house salsa, diced Spanish onion, finely shredded iceberg lettuce and Italian mozzarella to garnish.
Surely, a Oaxacan queso would be more apropos?
“Actually, Mexicans don’t put cheese on their tacos,” says co-owner and Mexico City native Axel Arvizu. “But our customers expect it.”
I also notice an appetizing two-tone confection in the display case and figure it must be La Tortilleria’s flan ($2.50).
“No, that’s jello,” laughs Arvizu. “It’s a very traditional Mexican dessert. My mom makes it all the time.”