Finally, we are allowed to gather in restaurants again! Having to cook all the time at home is becoming a burden. I give my kudos to stay-at-home parents who are constantly planning the next meal for the family during the year! Even though it’s just been me and my fiancé at home these past months, keeping the menu in mind and planning for lunch and dinners has been tough. I admit we almost ran out of rice once and that is a shame to admit to any fellow Asian person. I got scolded by my fiancé, and quickly ran out to buy some more. (I actually found our favourite brand on sale though – so take that!) Maybe I need to upgrade to a larger rice bucket soon.
Anyway, taking a break from tending to my 飯桶 fiancé, I abandoned him to go and eat Mexican food with Joe. In a never ending quest to find an actually good Mexican restaurant in Canada, I pulled up my list of saved restaurants that I’d collected from Instagram browses. There were actually a couple in the Streetsville area, a part of Mississauga that neither of us had been to before.
It’s a quaint part of Mississauga road that is north-west of the university. To me, it looks like a smaller version of Port Credit in Mississauga or Unionville in Markham, a street lined with little brick shops and restaurants, a traditional-looking church, and cozy streetlamps. Joe remarked that it would be nice during the holidays, with string lights in the shop windows, boughs of evergreen branches, and Christmas decorations in the doorways – which might give it a rosy glow that one would find nice for a stroll in the light snow. Ahh, why do we always think about winter in the summer and summer in the winter?
The restaurant we chose is called El Mariachi Tacos And Churros, and they are purportedly known for authentic, quality Mexican food. I’m always attracted to places when they say ‘authentic’, because I want that true flavour of somewhere that I am currently unable to visit. It admittedly has been a while since I’ve been to Mexico though, and the closest authentic food I’ve been able to find has been in the USA, in states closest to the border of Mexico. For example, when visiting San Diego, CA for the SfN conference a few years ago, my fiancé and I stumbled upon a humble looking taco shop with a colourful luchador theme and insane (there were like 9 types and it was (free?) self serve!) salsa bar. The flavour of the meats and even the fresh, plain tortilla chips were like nothing you can find in Canada – at least not that I have found yet. Nothing beats fresh salsa and chips, and hot, grilled meat wrapped in a hand pressed tortilla. I still dream about that place.
Today’s restaurant was a different sort of Mexican restaurant, more gentrified and palatable to the Canadian diet. An indication of this is in the prices of items on the menu. They are standard for a sit-down style dinner restaurant; for example, taco dishes are around $14-15.50 for 3 double tortilla tacos, and entrées (e.g., enchiladas, fajitas) are in the $20’s. Personally I don’t know how I feel about these types of prices for food that consists of what should be simple ingredients – corn flour, cilantro, simple meats, tomatoes etc., but after eating the food I can tell that they use good quality ingredients and they do pack a lot on each item. Joe and I reminisced about the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ type Mexican restaurants that throw a couple pieces of meat on a tortilla and charge you $2 for a taco, but that is a different style and maybe a different mindset than that required for the restaurant today.
I started off with a mojito, an appropriate drink I thought, but it sadly tasted mostly like lime water. Maybe drinks are not their specialty there, but I did see a nice bar in the front of the restaurant when we walked through on our way out to the patio. I love mojitos because of the crisp taste of the lime and mint rounded out by the smooth rum, which is perfect for the summer, so I was a little disappointed. The patio however, compensated for the sad mojito because it had a summery and lively vibe which felt great and social. We were seated appropriately distanced from people but still managed to enjoy the fun, colourful atmosphere.
I ordered the Lechera quesadilla which was made of steak and cheese and Joe had a gigantic burrito. Portion sizes were big, and you know how we like to eat a lot, so of course we added the cilantro lime fries to our dishes. For the fries, I don’t know what we expected but I still am not sure how they are cilantro or lime flavoured. They were flavourful though, they had a salty, seasoned taste, but I don’t know of what seasoning. Sometimes potatoes with just salt can be great by themselves so I think next time I’d skip the seasoning. Fries texture was also decent, slightly dry but not overly oily.
The quesadilla was pretty good! I consider myself to have good quesadilla experience, it used to be my meal of choice whenever I was stressed (aka ‘depression food’ haha) and so my sense of taste was heightened at the time to take in all the flavours. (That’s what I tell myself with the non-science part of my brain anyway). After a piano exam, during my interview for grad school with Kei, quesadillas were always there for me.
The steak was very flavourful and cheese plentiful, which are just what you need for a good quesadilla. The texture of the steak was a little questionable, I think I was expecting steak strips but it was like someone beat the steak up and it crumpled upon itself. That’s ok though, easier to digest, but more difficult to discern the quality. However, I could taste the onions and maybe soy sauce (?) used to marinate the steak and it had an excellent umami flavour. And of course cheese, *see spongebob gif*, it was melted perfectly and gave the steak a nice warm hug, which in turn made my belly satisfied.
Since I am not a completely disregarding partner, I got some tacos as takeout for my fiancé (which I almost left in the restaurant on my way out, shhh!) and took a bite of these when I got home. We enjoyed them, and he thought the chicken was tasty. We had the Chicken Tinga tacos which is shredded chicken in a tomato and chipotle sauce. Flavour was good, not too overpowering, which is great as sometimes chipotle can be too smoky where you lose the flavour of the meat. Again, texture of the meat was a little strange, while it was shredded, I expected it to be dry but instead it was slightly soggy. Maybe the marinade was a little strongly applied to counteract the potential dryness?
The tortillas were wonderful though, I wished I asked if they made them in house or got them from somewhere else, but the corn flavour was fresh and solid. The reason why I say I wished I asked where they were made, is due to a guilt conscience because of my mother. When we go to any Mexican place she judges the authenticity of the restaurant by their tortillas, taking a peak in the kitchen to see if there are any abuelas (grandmas) pressing them lovingly by hand in the back of the kitchen. So I can only confirm that the taste is good but cannot comment on the abuelas.
To finish off, since the place is called El Mariachi Tacos And Churros, we had to try the churros. I should preface that my favourite type of churro is the soft-ish style, fresh out of the fryer. I’m sad that the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) is closed this year because of COVID-19, because the churros at the food hall or the food trucks outside are some of my favourites. They’re big, hot, and cheap, and the cinnamon sugar just melts in your mouth. The churros today were the small and hard kind, crunchy on the outside and a little pillowy on the inside. They mentioned they there were multiple flavours you could choose to have stuffed inside; apple, strawberry, and oreo sauce, and it came with a side of dulce de leche. We were supposed to have two plain ones and two apple ones but the two that I ate were both plain? Joe, did you eat the apple ones? Anyway, I think they were ok, not worth the price of $8.50 (!!) though, but it did satisfy my donut craving. Overall, I think churros are best when from a low-key place, I prefer my churros un-fancy and fresh. It’s like Tiny Tom donuts, the simpler, the better.
And that’s El Mariachi (3.5/5 stars), a standard Mexican-style restaurant where you can find all of your favourite dishes, with good quality ingredients and a cool atmosphere. It’s definitely a sit-down or more ‘serious’ style of restaurant, not quite the casual drinking and quick-fry style usually associated with ‘authentic’ Mexican food. But there’s nothing wrong with that and it is still quite enjoyable! Recommend for when you want a tasty date maybe or a casual night on the town 🙂
Also, thanks for reading! As we know, school is coming up, and I have a couple of articles planned that I’m excited to share before classes start again. One is on sleep apnea and my struggles with the basic human function of sleeping (what is wrong with my vagus nerve?!) and I might throw in one on critical thinking skills or some fun things I’ve discovered during the school closure. See you soon!