Thursday, April 23, 2009

Adventures In World Cuisine: A spotlight on El Trompo

Different cultures and their cuisines have always intrigued me. I respect them and think of foreign foods as an adventure. How boring to only ever eat what we know or what is familiar. How exciting to see and taste how different cuisines can take a common ingredient like chicken and dress it up in so many different costumes.

Ok, so I admit to not ordering the beef heart at Foxley last week but I just didn’t feel like it. After last week’s lunch in Korea Town, I was feeling a little apprehensive.

I know next to nothing about Korean food so I took a trip down to Christie and Bloor for some research. I was out of place and out of sorts. I was just glad that the menu had pictures. I ordered bi bim bap only because it is one of the few dishes I have heard of. Four mystery dishes were served as sides. I could identify two as kimchi but one was some sort of grey jello that had been cut into rectangles. It was sprinkled with seeds and jiggling. It tasted like nothing. Even the bi bim bap was weird. It was cold (I guess I should’ve ordered the one in the hot pot?) and the vegetables had some sort of invisible dressing on them. The only part I recognized was the sriracha. I think I need to go back with a Korean friend but I don’t have any.

I will also admit to not knowing much about Mexican food. I don’t like it – never have. Even in Acapulco, I stuck to a diet of hamburgers and French fries (I was 22 and naive). I have a strong dislike for flour tortillas which, so I thought, ruled out a lot of dishes. I also hate green peppers and think that refried beans look like cat food. I do like corn, cheese, meat, avocados, tomatoes and margaritas so I decided to give Mexican another chance.

Two fellow food writers suggested El Trompo, 277 Augusta Avenue. They can be trusted.

It’s a small and friendly place and I like that the dominant language is Spanish. I don’t like that everything is served on or in plastic.

I ordered a Corona (when in Rome...) and again was feeling content with a menu that has some pictures. Playing it safe, I started with their nachos ($3.99). The corn chips were efficient but not as fresh as the pico de gallo that covered them. You could tell it had been made with love. It was loaded with garlic and onions and had a nice tang. The refried beans were actually not gross. They were subtly smeared on the chips with the cheese, instead of dumped on top.

Tacos al pastor ($9.75) are listed as their specialty. These are Mexico City style and the soft corn tacos are filled with marinated pork, onions, pineapple and coriander. A squirt of lime, a drizzle of salsa verde and I was off. The shredded meat was tender and flavourful. Every bite seemed to release a smoky juiciness. The coriander was chopped into the finest of threads so as to lift the pork not over power it. Sometimes I don’t mind coriander; other times I almost hate it. I find it has a soapy taste but not here. The flavours, including the sweetness from the pineapple bits, are balanced.

Even the tacos themselves were impressive. Unlike the flour variety, they were not doughy. They were dense but fluffy – like sturdy little pancakes.

This taqueria has all the fixings needed for a Mexican feast: huevos rancheros for brunch, margaritas to be savoured on the patio and if you want to make your own they sell authentic chorizo for $18/kg.

A colourful place within a colourful neighbourhood.

* The name of the Korean restaurant has been withheld to be fair. I did not like it but it may have more to do with my ignorance of the cuisine than the place it came from.


  1. Ooo I'm always looking for good tacos and the only place I've found them in TO is Tacos el Asador but they are El Salvadorian and not Mexican. I recommend checking it out the crispy chicken taco and the cheese papusas are fab!

  2. Hello from Santa Barbara the home great tacos! We make our own great tacos. So nice to know that this delicacy is alive and well way up there. Good post, best, s

  3. I've always wanted to try authentic Mexican. A big fan of the Tex-ex variety, I assume I would love it. Agreed on the coriander, if done wrong it can taste like lemon windex or something. Great review! Keep'em comin food gal : )

  4. Everyones' excitement is refreshing. Jen H - I am dying to try Tacos el Asador. Great suggestion - I'm interested in the varying Latin styles. So many little time.

  5. I love, love, love Mexican - in fact, it's my new fooding obsession.

    I've been to both of these restaurants and I would choose El Trompo over Tacos el Asador. I found that there was little taste to my tacos at the latter, and so its usually too cramped or crowded to really enjoy your meal. Plus, El Tromp has a cute little patio come summer time, which is great considering the lively locale.

    My regular haunt is Mexitaco on Bloor/Shaw St. The owners are extremely friendly, prices are great, the selection is wide, and they serve pretty delicious authentic Mexican meals. Word of advice though, Ri, asked them to go easy on your refried beans - they can go overboard from time to time.

  6. Hey Rita, great article...looks like you are getting quite a few responses now. Good for you! I will attempt to add digg to your blog today for you. Also how did your cards turn out?