FFWD REW

Mexican street food in Calgary

Taquerias and tacos are popping up everywhere

Tacos are undeniably trendy these days. The new appreciation for authentic Mexican street food has inspired eateries like Tubby Dog which transforms into an authentic taqueria on Tuesday nights and dedicated restaurants like Añejo are popping up around the city.

Calgarians have complained for years that there’s no good Mexican in Calgary — ever since Chi-Chi’s closed — and while there have been a few hidden gems tacos for the most part remained a staple on appetizer menus and as an hors d’ouevre at events stuffed with grilled tuna or pulled duck.

Last fall we saw a series of pop-ups called Taco/No Taco — the result of a brainstorming session between chef Cody Willis Jesse Willis of Vine Arts and Brendan Bankowski of Taste Restaurant — that started when Bankowski let the brothers take over the kitchen at Taste on Sunday nights.

“The first pop-up was a 13-course tasting menu — it had one seating with 22 tickets and was more fine dining more elaborate plates” says chef Cody of the evolution of Taco/No Taco.

“After that we decided to do something more fun easier with not as much prep so we decided on taco night and it sort of blew up from there.” (The idea was that on social media — the only way they were letting Calgarians know about the event — they’d post TACO when they were available and NO TACO once they ran out.)

The tacos were so popular that the concept is now being turned into a permanent taqueria in Victoria Park called Native Tongues which will serve up the same Mexican fare customers gobbled up at their pop-ups: tacos beer and brown liquor.

Jesse Willis is curating the wine and beer list and they’re planning on tiki-style cocktails. With tacos there’s plenty of room to play — and with so many combos inspired by Mexican flavours and Alberta ingredients it’s a delicious way to snack graze or get your fill.

“The taco trend has been around a long time” Cody says. “Earls and Joeys have had fish tacos on their menus for years and you see tacos on the menu at the National Model Milk…. Everyone has them but no one is fully dedicated.”

Their plan is to make everything from scratch from the tortillas to the guacamole and crema.

“We’re going to explore some of the weirder Mexican style tacos” says Cody. “In Mexico they’ll buy whole pigs and use the whole thing. And riffs on classics too — maybe a fried fish taco tuna hearts or something like that. Traditional tacos with a weirder touch.

“We like getting a little weird; an idea comes up in conversation and you’re like that would be awesome if we did that. And it’s great to actually do it.”

HOT SPOTS FOR YOUR TACO FIX

TUBBY DOG

On Tuesday nights Tubby Dog on 17th Avenue S.W. turns into a taqueria after 8 p.m. serving up made-from-scratch soft corn tacos and crisp tostadas piled with your choice of chicken pork beef bean and queso fresco or slow-cooked lengua (beef tongue). They also have fresh chips and house-made pico de gallo and guacamole with Mexi-Coke Coronita and Tecate to complete the taqueria experience (1022 17 Ave SW 403-244-0694 tubbydog.com )

AÑEJO

Añejo offers a more upscale yet authentic Mexican experience in the landmark Fourth Street Rose build-ing. With over 150 tequilas to choose from and a pretty fab margarita it’s a more contemporary dining experience with guacamole prepared table-side in a traditional lava- rock mortar and pestle. As for tacos you get the option of beef short rib crispy snapper wild mushroom chicken or adobo pork with toppings like pickled cabbage and avocado mousse. (2 2116 – 4 St SW 587-353-2656 anejo.ca )

EL CHARRITO TAQUERIA

Located between Diner Deluxe and OEB on Emonton Trail El Charrito Taqueria is a casual traditional taco joint selling freshly made tacos (only $2.25 apiece) and burritos with your choice of asada (steak) pollo (chicken) al pastor (pork) birria (shredded beef ) len-gua (beef tongue) or chorizo (spicy Mexican sausage). They also sell steamed tamales chile relleno (stuffed poblano peppers) and a bowl of authentic pozole — a stew of hominy and pork with chiles and cumin. You order at the counter for real food fast. (808 Edmonton Trail NE 403-478-2924)

LOS COMPADRES

One of Calgary’s first and favourite food trucks now has a bricks-and-mortar location on 17th Avenue S.W. with the same family serving up the same menu expanded to cover classic-casual lunch dinner and even brunch. (1439 17 Ave SW 403-460-2770

LOS CHILITOS TACO & TEQUILA HOUSE

Los Chilitos took over an old house on 17th Avenue S.W. in 2009; with a few inside rooms and a two-level split patio out front there’s plenty of casual space to enjoy authentic tacos enchiladas and quesadillas with margaritas and over a dozen tequilas to choose from. (1309 17 Ave SW 403-228-5528 loschilitos.ca )

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