Country 080 – El Salvador (Tacos El Asador)

Tacos Al AsadorLocation: 689 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: None

My one sentence summary of Tacos El Asador: tasty, but bland.  I tried a couple of things, and they were both good, but neither really jumped out at me.  Which is fine.  Not everything can be a taste bonanza.  Some things are just good.

It’s probably at least partially my fault.  “Tacos” is right there in the name of the restaurant.  I did not order a taco.  I wanted to stick to El Salvadorian specialties, so I ordered a tamale and a papusa.

Tacos Al Asador

My dining companion, on the other hand, ordered a couple of tacos and thoroughly enjoyed his meal, so I think that’s the thing to get.

I started with a corn tamale (well, technically I ordered a chicken tamale, but they brought me a corn tamale.  Things have to be pretty dire for me to complain at a restaurant, so I just ate what was in front of me).

Tacos Al Asador

It’s a good quality tamale, though flavour-wise there wasn’t much going on.  It was basically just plain corn meal with pops of sweetness from the whole kernels of corn.  The two hot sauces on the table helped to bring it some flavour, as did the little cup of sour cream that comes on the side.

Tacos Al Asador

I also tried the pork chicharron papusa, which was kind of like an arepa, but with meat baked right in.  And again, it didn’t exactly explode with flavour, but the pork was nice and tender and the exterior was satisfyingly crispy.  It also came with a little cup of hot sauce that suited it quite well.

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Country 079 – Bolivia (Emporio De Los Sandwiches)

Emporio De Los SandwichesLocation: 894 Wilson Avenue, North York
Website: None.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches is a delightful little bakery right around the corner from Yorkdale Mall that specializes in empanadas and seriously tasty-looking sweet pastries.  I went in intending to only get a couple of empanadas, but the desserts were transfixing.  I had a hard time narrowing it down to just a couple; they all looked so good.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

Don’t ask me what those desserts are, however; nothing was labeled.  I asked the woman behind the counter what they were called — she told me and they were extremely Latin sounding.  I felt bad asking her to repeat herself or write it down, so that was that.

I’m not exactly Suresh Doss, in case you haven’t figured that out yet.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

I know what the empanadas are, at least!  So I’m not completely useless.  One was beef, and the other was chorizo (even my feeble brain can recall words such as “beef” and “chorizo”).

They were both good, though the beef was clearly the better of the two.  The chorizo was a bit dry and underseasoned; it was fine, especially since the quality of the pastry itself was quite good, but it was pretty average.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

The beef, on the other hand, had an assertive flavour and a satisfyingly saucy consistency, featuring chunks of eggs and veggies to spice things up (metaphorically — neither empanada was spicy at all).

The desserts were the same story: one great, one not so much.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

The round one was seriously delicious; the pastry was fluffy and doughnut-like, and the creamy custard and sweet dulce de leche went perfectly together.

The square one was odd.  It basically tasted like a ridiculously fat square of dry, plain pie crust.  It was hard and crunchy and barely sweet at all (I think the sugar on top was the only source of sweetness).

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

It kinda went over my head.  I don’t get the appeal.  I’m pretty sure the woman behind the counter mentioned a caramel filling, so I’m going to assume that something was missing.

Country 078 – Uruguay (La Pasiva)

La PasivaLocation: 896 Wilson Avenue, North York
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Pasiva/174822035894964

Apparently steak and eggs are a pretty big deal in Latin America; I’ve had a version of this meal for Colombia, Ecuador, and now Uruguay.

The one they’re serving at La Pasiva wound up being almost exactly the same as the one I had at Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  It’s a relatively simple dish: steak and eggs, a salad, and potatoes (you can choose between potato salad and fries — I went with potato salad).

La Pasiva

I liked it even better than the version at Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  The well done, thinly-cut steak was a little bit tough — but it was still much more tender than Comedor’s version, and the seasoning was nice and zingy.

It’s also a nice reminder of why steak and eggs is a classic dish; they go very well together.

La Pasiva

The salad, with its standard vinaigrette, didn’t particularly stand out, but the potato salad was quite delightful.  I’m generally not a fan of potato salad, mostly because it almost always features raw onion, and that’s not my favourite flavour (putting it mildly).  But La Pasiva’s version was refreshingly onion-free; it was a little bit sweeter than I’d like, but the potatoes were nice and creamy, and it had enough of a vinegary bite to cut the sweetness.

I also tried the pasiva (because you should never leave a restaurant without trying its namesake dish), which consists of two hot dogs wrapped in fatty ham and served with melty cheese on top.  It’s served on an enormous pile of fries.

La Pasiva

Was it good?  I mean, yeah, of course it was good.  Did you not read what I just wrote?  It’s a hot dog wrapped in ham and covered with gooey cheese.  The hot dog had a nice smokey flavour, and the whole thing was quite satisfying.

La Pasiva

The fries — which were thinly-cut and were very similar to what you’ll find at McDonald’s — were okay, but they had clearly been sitting out for a while, so they weren’t hot and they were somewhat dried out.

Country 071 – Ecuador (Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano)

Comedor Popular EcuatorianoLocation9 Milvan Drive, North York
Website: None

Though I’ve already written about a restaurant in the Plaza Latina food court, another visit was probably inevitable.  That place is an absolute treasure trove of Latin American food.

This time, I visited an Ecuadorian restaurant called Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  I wasn’t sure what to order; the woman behind the counter recommended a dish that came with a hearty soup and churrasco, an Ecuadorian take on steak and eggs.

Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano

The soup came out first, and it was really, really good.  I didn’t see it on the menu, but I’m pretty sure this was sancocho.  I had this particular soup at a restaurant called Mi Tierra, but this one was clearly the superior version.  The broth had a really satisfying chicken-infused flavour, with a nice hit of cilantro and a zestiness that kept me coming back for more.

Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano

It was also seriously hearty, with huge chunks of cassava, carrots, plantains, beef, and corn.  This alone would have been a satisfying lunch.

But of course, there was still the main meal: a huge plate piled high with steak, rice, fries, two fried eggs, and a salad.  If you’ve got a big appetite, this is your place.

Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano

Oddly, I really enjoyed this even though most of the individual components weren’t all that great.  The steak was tough, the fries were run-of-the-mill, and the rice was fairly bland.  But once I started eating it all together, it coalesced into something surprisingly tasty.  The perfectly runny yolks on the two eggs essentially becomes a sauce that improves everything; if you get a little bit of multiple elements in each mouthful, it’s delicious.

Country 066 – Chile (Auténtica)

AutenticaLocation: 9 Milvan Drive, North York
Website: None

When I did Argentina for this blog about 30 countries ago, I tried a sandwich called a lomito, which I noted was served in Argentina and Chile.  Well, here I am doing Chile, and yep — I ordered another lomito.

Kinda boring, but I wasn’t crazy about the first lomito I had, so I thought I’d give it another shot.

Autentica

I tried this one at a restaurant called Auténtica in the Plaza Latina food court in North York.  That’s a really fascinating food court that specializes entirely in Latin American restaurants.

The lomito from Auténtica consisted of sliced pork, tomatoes, avocado, and mayo.  It’s served on a really interesting house-made bun that’s kind of like a cross between a traditional bun and a biscuit.

Autentica

It wasn’t bad — the pork was nice and tender, and the tomato and avocado were fresh and tasty.  But there wasn’t a ton of flavour here; the pork was barely seasoned, and I don’t think the avocado or tomato slices were seasoned at all.  It was a decent enough sandwich, but nothing about it particularly stood out.

Autentica

I also tried the completo, which is a hot dog topped with avocado, tomato, and mayo (they really love avocado, tomato, and mayo in Chile, I guess).  The hot dog was smoky and tasty, but again, the other components were a bit bland.  It really needed mustard or some other condiment to give it a bit more flavour.  Still, it was enjoyable enough.

Autentica

I finished with the tres leches cake, which was the highlight.  A tres leches cake gets its name (which translates to “three milks”) from condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream.  This one also featured a layer of dulce de leche, which worked exceptionally well with the moist — but not soggy — cake.  The only issue here was that the whipped cream tasted like it was actually Cool Whip or something similar, which was unfortunate.

Country 051 – Brazil (Mata Bar)

mata
Location
: 1690 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.matabar.ca/

I’m not sure how authentic Mata Bar is (they have stuff like sliders and french toast on their menu), but hey, it’s Winterlicious, it’s my blog, so let’s do it.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Winterlicious is a city-wide promotion where a bunch of restaurants offer relatively cheap three course menus for a couple of weeks.

I came to Mata Bar at lunch, and the waiter informed us that they were offering the ceviche as an appetizer choice that day (it’s normally only a dinner thing);  I figured, yeah, that seems authentic enough.  I went for it.

Ceviche can be hit or miss.  It’s kind of monotonous in its flavours if prepared poorly; basically just acidic and not much else.  But the version here was pretty tasty, with a good balance of acidity and sweetness, and nice hits of spice from the hot peppers.

The main meal was fried rice; it was crammed with chunks of of various meats, including what the menu describes as “salted beef,” and was hearty and quite tasty, if a bit one-note salty.  It was also lacking in the crispy bits that you’re looking for in a dish like this, but it was fine.  I enjoyed it.

The meal concluded with the Guava and Cheese Empanadas with Cinnamon.  Perfectly fried, with a lightly crispy pastry exterior and a very creamy, mildly tart filling, this was absolutely delightful.  It was a very pleasant capper to a very pleasant lunch — nothing too mindblowing, but for 18 bucks for three solid courses, a pretty amazing deal.

Mata Bar - the ceviche Mata Bar - the fried rice Mata Bar - the empanada

Country 043 – Venezuela (El Arepazo)

arepa
Location
: 181 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://arepazo.ca/

A good way of figuring out what to order for this blog is Googling “[Insert country here] national dish.”  In the case of Venezuela, their national dish is pabellón criollo, which consists of braised beef, rice and beans, and is typically served with fried plantain.

The version at El Arepazo is a bit untraditional– for one thing, it’s served on an arepa, which is essentially like a corn tortilla and a pita had a baby.  Steak is substituted for shredded beef, and given that it’s served in bread, rice has been taken out of the equation entirely.

I quite enjoyed it, though any notion that it could be eaten like a sandwich went out the window almost immediately.  The arepa itself isn’t exactly substantial, and they’ve filled it with a lot of stuff.  I took one bite and the whole thing collapsed into bits like a meat-and-bean-filled pinata.

Still, however you eat it, it’s good.  The steak is a bit on the tough side and all the flavours are probably more muted than they should be (though the two sauces that come on the side — a red and a green salsa — add some needed zip), but it’s otherwise pretty tasty.  The beans, the beef, and the creamy plantains are a good combo, and the gooey cheese helps to bring it all together.