Earlier this week Twitter lit up with rumours of a new knoshery opening in Hintonburg. While the opening of a new restaurant is no rare event on the ever-gentrifying strip of Wellington Street this one got people chattering like meerkats. As rumours told, Wellington Street was about to receive a taquería.
Sure, Hintonburg has seen explosive growth in eateries as of late: Back Lane Cafe (bistro), 1014 (tapas), a property-value increasing Bridgehead, an expanded Hintonburger (in a refurbed KFC, no less, to maintain hipster cred), the Hintonburg Public House, Burnt Butter (Italian fusion), Tennessy Willems (wood-fired pizza) and even a doughnut shop called Suzy Q’s (in Hintonburger’s old, albeit renovated, shack no less) join neighbourhood stalwarts such as Springroll House’s Vietnamese and Hino‘s Japanese. But a taco shop occupies a special, lofty perch in the foodie pantheon, particularly among the fickle Hintonbourgoisie and taco-starved Ottawa public in general.
A grand opening on Thursday drew a large crowd and much rejoicing commenced on Twitter. Having heard the news, and on account of living nearby and wanting to take advantage of the incredibly beautiful Summer-in-March weather as of late, I decided to walk over and check it out.
As I strolled I tried to deduce why the taco has become the new It food and what separates it from other similar contrivances in the gastronomic taxonomy—the wrap, the shawarma, the gyro, even Mexico’s own burrito. I could only conclude that the taco offers a cheap, meaty, spicy pick-me-up. It’s not a high-falutin food: it’s simple, honest, and based on my experience with itinerant taqueríacarts, perhaps a little dangerous.
While I pondered I closed the distance to The TacoLot, located in a cinderblock blockhouse on what was an old used-car lot. For local landmarks, this is directly next to the original Hintonburger/Suzy Q location forming a nascent Ghetto Foodcourt. The scene was pandemonium, with people waiting in line and milling about waiting for their orders. I thought grim thoughts but was pleasantly surprised that the order queue was orderly and processed very quickly, perhaps owing to the spare chalkboard menu annunciating the fillings du jour: chicken, beef, pork (I am told shrimp and the highly-prized taco arbiter, the fish taco, will also be offered later) [Edit: I have confirmed that there is a veg taco and also a salmon variety]. I ordered two pork tacos and a can of BlueSky cane-sugar cola and plunked down $12 for the privilege.
Order placed, I gave them my name and took a seat in the small collection of tables to wait. And wait. And wait. And wait in the hot sun painfully aware that despite Gino Vanelli’s sage advice, this former car lot offered zero shade for black cars…or taco shack patrons; some umbrellas would be nice. Luckily I had company but a good 25 minutes ticked by.
Now, I’m not the most patient person but today I was more sympathetic than usual: they had just opened and were clearly overwhelmed. However, despite the hungry throng they were moving through orders at a steady clip based on the rate at which other expectant tacoistes were collecting their paperboard takeout boxes laden with goodies. While I waited they ran out of chicken and I noted them pleasantly offering substitutions. The other thing that made the wait tolerable was that from what I could see, my patience would be rewarded.
Finally my name was called and I collected my prize. Served open, the soft-shell tacos are about 6″ in diameter and filled—although not stuffed—with carñe, pico, lettuce, and cheese. Thoughtfully a small lime wedge is included. Nothing left to do but roll up and eat.
After all this waiting I was quite hungry and I wolfed them down. The shells were soft and fresh, although as best I could tell are a flour tortilla (some debate has erupted over whether they have claimed house-made corn tortillas). The filling pork was in rough cubes—for some reason I was expecting pulled pork—which while tender and juicy was somewhat bland and under seasoned. I like my meat with a little more heat (#TWSS). Lettuce was crisp, cheese was cheesy, but the superstar was the pico. Bright, tangy, not too oily with chunks of cucumber, onion, quartered grape tomatoes (!), and the *perfect* amount of cilantro.
They were gone all too quickly. Which is a shame: although delicious the price is a bit prohibitive. I’ll be back but probably not too often.
- The Good—great tortilla (despite corn vs flour controversy), amazing pico, fresh, friendly service
- The Bad—spendy (for tacos), meat is a little bland, no condiments (hot sauce, jalepeños), no shade, some opening-week teething issues
- The Ugly—no complaints