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Jun 27, 2007 03:30 PM

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 $ 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 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 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 . 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.