If there’s one thing I realized after I started spending more time in the U.S. with Cari and her family, it’s that authentic Mexican food was lacking in Toronto. This kind of came as a bit of a shock, considering the number of quality Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Ethiopian, Korean, Italian, Thai, etc, etc, etc. restaurants in this city I call home.
Shortly after moving to the Dufferin & St. Clair area, we realized that there are actually quite a few Mexican restaurants in our area. Before tonight, we had only tried El Rincon. The food there was very good, but didn’t leave much of a lasting impression. We were also curious as to how some of the other restaurants compared.
With its large bright orange sign, El Palenque caught our attention right away. In fact, the first summer that we lived in our house, Cari picked up a menu from inside and commented on how good the place smelled. Somehow, it took us more than a year and a half to return. But we finally did, and our meal there was probably the best Mexican meal we’ve had in Toronto.
First impressions: It’s an adorable little place with a stage set up for mariachi performances (our waitress told her that her mother sings with the band on weekends). The menu was equally adorable, constructed out of wood to depict window shutters:
El Palenque's Menu
We started with the obligatory guacamole, which got us off to a good start. It was served in a neat stone bowl with freshly baked chips and three types of salsa, each with its own unique flavour. Very tasty guacamole… a good sign.
Then came our margaritas. Although El Palenque offers up strawberry, melon, banana, and even guava flavoured margaritas, we had to go with the original lime, on the rocks. When we asked our waitress the difference between medium and large sized margaritas, she commented that the difference had to do with the amount of alcohol; not the physical size. So large it was! Not only that, but she was gracious enough to bring us the extra amount she had mixed by mistake. So we actually each ended up with about a margarita and a half each.
Our entrees was extremely satsifying, and ultimately what convinced us that we were experiencing something special. Cari ordered vegetarian fajitas, which were served with small, fresh tortillas and a whole load of vegetables and other fixings. I ordered a burrito with delicious chunks of beef, cheese, rice and sauces. Mmm…
We were hoping to try El Palenque’s fried ice cream for dessert, but just before we had ordered our food we overheard someone behind us unsuccessfully trying to do the same (apparently it’s a more common dish in the summer and they were all out). Oh well, after the copious amounts of food we had already eaten, there’s no way we could have eaten any more.
As of right now, El Palenque is easily the best Mexican we’ve had in Toronto. The search continues, as always, but for now we are very happy and will definitely return.