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Mexican withdrawal in Calgary

Where can I get good Mexican food in Calgary?

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  1. arrrrrrrgh-

    I head to the airport, and I get on a plane, and I fly to Portland or SF or LA or Chicago or Boise or Bozeman or pretty much any city in the US, because there is NO, I repeat, NO good Mexican in Canada, Calgary very much included.

    Your only option is someplace like El Toro catering (assuming they're still in business), which makes very good tacos (meaning they grill CORN tortillas, top with some variety of chicken or beef- no adobo or mole or salsa verde, this is Calgary, it might scare people to have anything THAT delicious- and top with a sprinkling of finely chopped onion, cilantro, pico di gallo, maybe a little queso fresco AND THAT IS ALL. NO CHEDDAR CHEESE, NO DAMN LETTUCE, and for the love of all that is holy, NO FLOUR TORTILLA. Good stuff.

    Of course, Mexican is waaaaaay more than tacos, but I'd settle for just that.

    Okay, I will admit that I've loved some of what I've had at El Sombrero, but when I have to pay something like $15 for 3 tacos pequenos that would cost me $6 or less in Portland, I just can't bring myself to do that.

    Yen, wanna pipe up here? You've volunteered to make tacos for everyone, right?

    9 Replies
    1. re: John Manzo

      Adding my vote. Calgary is just not a great place for Mexican.Just be glad we're close to LA. But, not every city in the US has good Mexican. I'm just back from 4 weeks in Manhattan. Even the Manhattan CHs agree. Of course there is much to console yourself with.

      1. re: sharonanne

        If you spent 4 weeks in Manhattan and didn't pop over to the Red Hook area in Brooklyn of a Sunday...well, you missed out. There are soccer fields there jammed with transplanted Latin Americans, their friends and families politely pretending to watch when in reality they've come to chow down at the makeshift shantytown that springs up for that one day each week. Virtually every central American country's street food is represented there and it's painfully tough to make a choice. Best thing to do is just join a line-up and ask the person ahead of you "What's good?" It's tough to find, but worth the effort.

        1. re: sharonanne

          Manhattan does have a lot of good Mexican food, especially in the garment district, where a lot of Mexicans work. It is mostly quick lunch stuff, tacos, tortas and the like. The better Mexican food, however, is in Brooklyn (Sunset Park) and Queens (Astoria and Jackson Heights).

          1. re: inuksuk

            I was living in Chelsea which is close to the garment district and we did visit Brooklyn a few times. I was on a course and it was really busy even on weekends. I did what I could based on the Manhattan CH recommendations but so many restaurants, so little time.

        2. re: John Manzo

          There is no good Mexican. Go to LA.

          As for volunteering? I'll pass. Im not sure how those mexican families do it - i tried making my own corn tortillas once - scratch that idea! Buying is way better :) Want good mexican in Calgary? Buy a Rick Bayless cookbook, and cook. Just skip the carnitas. It look me weeks to get the lard smell out of my kitchen.

          I did have an interesting encounter in the hallway today - apparently my new neighbours are Mexican. And she was carrying a tray of burritos. When asked where they were from, she mentioned her friend made them, and he owns a restaurant. Apparently he owns Los Mariachis, where i had one decent experience and one gut wrenchingly bad one. She says he used to lease the restaurant out to someone else to operate, but he recently took it back over, and has two chefs from Mexico City working there. It has some promise - enought that i'll give it a third go. I'll just make sure i bring some immodium with me, just in case.

          1. re: yen

            The only thing is, Mexico City cuisine isn't what I think of as "Mexican," but yeah. definitely promising- with all the Mexicans here on work visas, you never know. I hear Spanish all the time these days, maybe the other shoe will drop, so to speak. (And yes, I know that the majority of those Spanish speakers here are probably from Chile and Argentina etc etc, but hope springs eternal)

          2. re: John Manzo

            Oh, and arent we waiting for newJJD to set up his Taco stand!?

            1. re: yen

              Yes, you are, and you may have to wait a little longer. I have returned to my home, Kelowna, and my $$$ is tied up in other projects right now. That being said, there actually is a pretty decent Mexican restaurant here called Hector's Casa.

            2. re: John Manzo

              El Sombrero is your best and really only option...and it may be more expensive than what's in Portland but I doubt your going to spend $400 to go to Portland to save $9...so save your pesos amigo ;)

              Also, Salt and Pepper is also good but it's not Mexican food, it's Guadalaharan food.

            3. Unfortunately John's right. I moved here from Austin, TX & I haven't found any good Mexican here. El Sombrero on 17th Ave is the best that I've had but as John said....it is really expensive compared to anywhere in the US. It will get you by in a pinch, though.

              1. I've given up, so I just make my own at home. I make a killer pico de gallo :)

                1. Given the recent influx of Mexican workers to this province, I think good authentic cuisine is now inevitable.

                  In the meantime, Boca Loca's not bad.


                  I've also been pleasantly surprised by the El Salvadoran places on 17th Ave SE.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: bookley

                    Speaking of U.S. cities, I was recently in Chicago and although I didn't hit any of Rick Bayliss' places ( I settled for Trotters, Avec and Blackbird haha) , the stuff I snacked on for lunch most days at little streetlevel taco joints was way more fresh and vibrant and yummy than anything I have had up here. It happened in Chicago...it could happen here. I will keep hoping.

                    1. re: formerlyfingers

                      Settled... nice :) How was Avec? I havent had a chance to go there...

                      1. re: formerlyfingers

                        FF, Chicago (metro) has a Mexican population of well over a million people. Hammond, Indiana,where I was born and raised, is 25% Hispanic, nearly all of it Mexican; East Chicago, Ind, next to Hammond, is more than half Mexican... so what's "happened" in Chicago is due to demographic history that Calgary will never, ever, ever, ever approximate. Not meaning to flame you at all (though damn you for eating at CT!), it's just that Chicago is one of the most un-surprising places to find good Mexican. If you'd found it in, say, Lexington Kentucky, I'd be more hopeful (since Lex has next to no Hispanic population)

                        1. re: John Manzo

                          Agreed, but my point was more about the irony of Rick Bayliss producing the best Mexican food outside of Mexico. I loved Chicago! And Yen, Avec was awesome. I went there two nights in a row. Simple concept, understated decor, actually probably built for super cheap. But it is all so...intentional. The food and service were great. The vibe was cool and funky and the crowd was totally hip and friendly (which is good cuz you're elbow to elbow with your neighbors at the table.) I will definitely go back.

                          1. re: formerlyfingers

                            Sigh. I used to go to Chicago on business - it was great - expense account is a great way to eat. I've read about Avec, but never had the opportunity to go. Color me green.

                            1. re: yen

                              Rick Bayless's places are over-rated. Try Salpicon the next time you're in Chicago; it's in my top three Chicagoland places along with Alinea and Spiaggia. Have the crab cakes!

                              Calgary Mexican: univerally appalling. Don't bother.

                              1. re: ChrisA

                                I'll go to Alinea in a heartbeat because I gather it's a place that has to be experienced- but the rest of the time I'm in Chicago, it's stuffed pizza, hot dogs with sport peppers and celery salt, and CHEAP REAL Mexican, baby.

                                And White Castles.

                                1. re: John Manzo

                                  White Castle!? You must be from the midwest!

                                  1. re: yen

                                    Hammond, Indiana, Yen, the industrial armpit of that state, right SE of Chicago. We had a White Castle 3 blocks from my house, and at one time two of my siblings worked there. I'd say hardly a week went by without "sliders." I miss them desperately.

                                    1. re: John Manzo

                                      Anytime someone pines for sliders or White Castle, i know they grew up in the Midwest :) Anyone who grew up outside of that area just doesnt feel the same way (personally i don't get it, but i don't understand the Whataburger craze in the South either). Im an In N Out guy myself! give me a double double animal style with crispy fries anyday of the week.

                      2. re: bookley

                        they're ok, but not quite what im looking for. I keep hoping that good authentic cuisine is soon inevitable!

                      3. If you are ever up in Edmonton check out Don Antonio's http://www.restaurantthing.com/edmont... . Most of what he serves is authentic (Mr. Antonio is from Mexico City.) and quite good although melted cheddar occasionally pops up in the most unwelcome places.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: inuksuk

                          What do you folks think about Juan's? I tend to prefer it to El Sombrero.

                          1. re: Dan2007

                            i used to go to Juan's all the time when they were on 1st street. They seemed to lose a bit of charm when they moved into the basement space on Stephen Avenue, not to mention a few consistency issues at first (though that seems to have been taken care of). I find Juan's is better value than El Sombrero, but quality-wise for me, Juan's, El Sombrero, and the various Salt & Pepper locations are pretty much interchangeable: Good (for Calgary), but not great. Having said that, Juan's hospitality when the owner is working is pretty hard to beat.

                        2. While not specifically Mexican, La Casa Latina in Forest Lawn has some of the best food in the city. GO GO GO!!!!

                          1. Salt and pepper on Macleod around 42nd SW is pretty good. I've never been to Mexico, so I'm not an expert.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: hsk

                              Agree with general consensus that there is not much in the way of good Mexican here. Tres Marias in the Calgary Farmer's Market has very good tamales, fresh salsa (avocado salsa mmmmm) and tortillas, other takeway and heat-up-at-home items, sometimes I grab lunch there on the weekend and gossip about the Mexican restaurant scene here.

                              I have a weakness for Juan's downtown, partly because he is a neighbour and long standing friend of mine, he's friendly and the cooking is good tho maybe a bit dumbed-down for "Canadian" tastes, probably from his past experience cooking in big hotels, and agree the new place, tho bigger, lacks the charm of his old location.

                              I know this was on a separate thread, but I quite enjoy the new fast food Taco del Mar in the southeast. Beats the "Mexican" fast food competition in town hands-down.

                              1. re: alley

                                I had a quick lunch from the Taco Del Mar at 130th on Saturday and was pleasantly surprised, the burrito was very tasty and HUGE. I ate half of it and the other half has been taunting me in the fridge since then. The hot sauce had a bit of a kick, I was impressed with the heat in the medium so I'm sure the Hot would be quite HOT. Plus they have a very tasty selection of beans.

                                The owner was very nice as well, obviously trying to get his business off the ground and being very accomodating/friendly, (though offering my mother the seniors discount did not win him any points in her books); he gives discounts to seniors and members of the armed forces.

                                It was very good and so filling. Worth trying if you're in the area, though probably not up to the snuff of the good Mexican you can find down in the states.

                                1. re: foxyfreckles

                                  I'd just hope it would be as good as Taco Del Mar in the states.

                                  Yen gave this a big thumbs down a while back- but I still have to try it.

                                  I went to Salt and Pepper in Bowness last night, first time (and actually my first time in Bowness- what potential that strip has!) , and although the tacos were a bit of a joke- I said, no lettuce, no cheddar cheese, no sour cream- I got these three things that I could only describe as dry enchiladas, not terrible but not really tacos either- the rest of the food was actually really good. One in our party got this dish that was a casserole with chorizo and cheese that you eat with flour tortillas and chips- it was delish.

                                  A homemade suggestion: we made chicken (breasts) baked en papillotte (well in foil anyway) and we used churrasco "bbq" sauce to make portuguese chicken sandwiches a la the churrasco we love and miss at St Lawrence Mkt in Toronto- and I discovered that this combo is GREAT for tacos!

                                  1. re: John Manzo

                                    I had a pretty bad experience at the Salt and Pepper on McLeod (I don't even know if it's still open) years ago. There was freezer burn on my burrito... it was concerning...

                                    It's really unfortunate because I don't think it's THAT hard to make Mexican food... other than tortillas, I have no desire to try to make them as they remind me of chappati and that was a difficult/stressfull experience

                                    1. re: foxyfreckles

                                      Yes, they're still open, I drive by there all the time, but haven't been in there lately. I thought Village Cantina in Inglewood was pretty good, but I'm not sure it's authentic mexican. Years ago my favourite "mexican" food was chicken enchiladas at 4St Rose, and they didn't even pretend to be mexican.

                            2. I agree with most people that Calgary is not awash in good Mexican. I lived in Houston for a while and there is nothing that really compares to the Tex-Mex and Mexican there.

                              Juan's on 8th Ave is alright. El Sombrero has about the same level of food with a better atmosphere.

                              A surprising find is Las Palmeras in Red Deer. It's definitely worth a stop in on the drive to Edmonton.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: nick_motown

                                Goodness gracious what did we all say above that had to be eradicated? I tried not to say anything controversial myself, I'll have to check the editorial policies again to see how so many of us could have crossed so far over the line on this particular subject.

                                For whatever reason we are now left with a digression on White Castle (why wasn't that eradicated with the rest???) and a couple of notes left hanging from an anotherwise vigorous and useful discussion.

                              2. If you make it down to Kalispell (I know that Kalispell is not the same as Calgary) there is a good Mexican restaurant at the south end of town on the main drag through town. Excellent food, good prices, big portions, only downside other than it being 5 hrs from Calgary is that they don't have a liquor license so the "margarita" is basically a frozen lime spritzer made with wine. Otherwise I just go to Mexico and get my fill.

                                1. Well guys, I haven't tried it yet, but have just found out that Broken City has converted their entire menu from traditional pub fare, to "mexican".

                                  The story in FFWD was a mixed review, I think I will have to check that out soon, at least somebody is taking a stab in a different direction.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: young lion


                                    My office is just a few doors up the street so we used to end up at broken city fairly often - i always hated their food before....while i was on holidays in august, they changed the menu and all my co-workers went for someone's birthday lunch and to their surprise not an onion ring to be found! On the website, after what we figure were numerous complaints, broken city's comment was that the menu "will grow on you". The response from everyone in my office was "we're never eating at broken city again!!" and it still gets people worked up at how tasteless they think the new menu is. Myself and one other coworker, that missed this experience, are willing to give it a shot before we trash it, especially since their food was so terrible before, but we aren't holding our breath - at least i got my wish and we don't have to go their for lunch anymore :)

                                    1. re: pants

                                      looks intriguing, minus "shredded lettuce," which doesn't belong on tacos et al. Ever.

                                  2. mexican food in calgary? hopeless. just pick up the Sept 2007 issue of Gourmet (not specifically on mexican food though), source the ingredients when you're in the US and make your own.

                                    just spent 2 weeks in Washington DC and Chicago and i still have guilt pangs from not stocking up enough on the myriad selection of dried chiles available most everywhere there.