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Jan 22, 2010 12:56 PM

El Almacen - new yerba mate cafe (West Queen West)

Happened upon this cute little cafe last week. It's run by a charming Argentinian named Silvio and, as far as I know, it's the first yerba mate cafe in Toronto. I don't profess to be an expert on yerba mate but they serve this low caffeine herbal drink in traditional gourds or in a french press. I found the taste somewhat like an oolong tea. They also have Argentinian pastries and sandwiches. It's a very cute, serene little spot. 1078 Queen Street West.

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  1. Just noticed it for the first time last night. BlogTO posted a profile of it today:

    1. Out of curiousity, are they licenced? It sounds like it is more of a café, but I have been dying to try and find Hespiridina in the North American continent, and have come up empty. If there is a chance they may have some, it may become my new hangout.

      BTW, do they also sell the bombilla's?

      8 Replies
      1. re: Lazar

        Hespiridina! Bombillas! You got me looking things up on google, Lazar!!

        I'm almost positive they're not licensed - it is definitely a cafe with a menu made up mostly of mate (in different preparations), coffees, empanadas, alfajores and sandwiches. They definitely serve the mate with bombillas but I can't recall if they sold them - I remember seeing loose leaf mate but I don't remember if they sold any of the vessels or straws.

        1. re: peppermint pate

          Another place for empanadas?!?! Oh I hope they live up to my expectations.

          Since I got you looking stuff up, are the sandwiches the traditional "sandwiches de miga"? (do you know that one?) I get mine from Emporio de los Sandwiches on Wilson (between Keele & Dufferin), and I would love to see how someone else makes them.

          1. re: Lazar

            Well you sent me back to google yet again but yes, I can definitively say that they do serve "sandwiches de miga". And they looked yummy. Had we not just eaten, we would have sampled those and the empanadas but alas, we were full and so we only tried the mate.

        2. re: Lazar

          You can buy bombillas (and other stuff) at a Latin American video store on Bloor St. W. between Bathurst and Clinton on the north side. I could guide you there in person, but I forget the name and address of the place, so sorry. Not very helpful...

          1. re: Pincus

            I think I know the store you are talking about. It looks kind of "run down", and has a sign that says simple "Latin Products"? I can actually find bombillas and gourds at other places, it is just that the hours of most of these places doesn't jive with my schedule.

              1. re: Pincus

                Is that place ever actually open? Every time I have passed by there (during "normal" business hours) it seems to be closed.

                Also, would you consider it a hidden gem? Will I find "hard-to-find" items or is it fairly "standard Latin products"? And is possible that I am using "quotations" more than necessary?

                All interesting questions

                1. re: Lazar

                  I dropped by there one Friday evening quite a while back and it was open. I don't know much about hidden Latin products, I just noted they had what seemed to be a large selection of yerba mate and I bought a package of that a gourd bombilla, and a straw for the bombilla. They had other Latin American things for sale, but I don't know if they are readily available elsewhere or not. Not a knowledgeable guy on Latin American products.

        3. Does anyone have any contact details on this place? e.g. website, phone number, etc

          8 Replies
          1. re: Lazar

            What, no more words to look up???

            El Almacen, 1078 Queen Street West (a few blocks east of The Drake), 416-516-2898. Not sure if they have a website.

            1. re: peppermint pate

              Hey PP, well, I hate to how about matambre relleno?....does El Almacen have that? Hope your search goes well.

              1. re: Lazar

                Ay caramba! - translation pages and everything - nope, didn't see anything like a stuffed flank steak. Methinks I need to pick up where I left off with my Spanish lessons...and that long overdue trip to South America!

                1. re: peppermint pate

                  if you go, let me can bring me back some about choripan? How about that one?

                  1. re: peppermint pate

                    Finally made it out to El Almacen this past weekend. Quite like this place. First off, I was impressed by the traditional 1930's style esspresso machine. Not enough places have these. Immediately sets the ambiance.

                    So I looked at their menu and ordered a maté to go (only had a few minutes at the time) and some empandas. Unfortunately, they had just put the empanadas in the oven to bake, and I didn't have time to wait for them. So I ordered sandwiches de miga instead. While preparing my order, I chatted with Silvio.

                    They use Taragui brand of maté which he states is the best quality that is available. I noticed that they had some Cruz de Malta (which is the brand I have always used) and Silvio stated quite plainly that it was not up to the standard of Taragui. The decided to try some when the first opened, but they weren't planning on continuing with. And when I got my maté, WOW, what a difference! Cruz de Malta is much more subdued compared to Taragui. It was a bit of a pleasant surprise.

                    The sandwiches, were ok. They were the traditional thin ham & cheese sandwiches that you expect. But for the money, I will still buy my sandwiches de miga from Emporio de los Sandwiches, where you can get a pack of sandwiches de miga with ham & cheese, but also olives, peppers, hard cooked eggs etc. Next time I am at El Almacen, I'll ask if they make the sandwiches with other fixings.

                    Overall, I quite like this little café. Unfortunately it is a little out of my way, otherwise I would be a regular patron.

                    Spoke with Silvio about Hespiridina as well. He would love to be able to offer it, but for now he does even know how he would bring it into the country (apparently, the good people at Hespiridina do not export anything out of Argentina). Next time I go, I will make sure I have more time to sit and enjoy my maté. I wish they had wifi too, all well, can't have everything.

                    1. re: Lazar

                      So glad you liked it, Lazar. And I personally kind of like that they don't have wifi - when I was in there, there was a couple having a quiet conversation while solo drinkers were reading or writing in their journals.

                      1. re: peppermint pate

                        Don't get me wrong. I agree that the fact they don't have wifi is nice. It does seem a classic neighbourhood place where the staff know you and you have a regular order. And why spoil it with wifi?

                        The unfortunate part is that it is not in my neighbourhood. So if I were to frequent it, it would mean a special trip, and usually that means spending more than 1 hour there (otherwise why go?). Not that I would want to use the wifi every visit, but when i want to enjoy a place for an extended period of time, sometime work commitments creep in and I have to be able to access the network. So really, I guess I am saying that it would be nice to have wifi there (just in case), but not a necessity.

                        Anyway, my visit will mostly be relegated to the weekends, so i just have to call ahead to make sure the empanadas are ready.

                        As a side note, almost as though fate were giving me the finger, the empanadas they were baking were supposedly filled with ground beef, olives, peppers, hardcooked eggs, and (I think) potatoes.....and those empanadas with that combination are my favourite. As I said, I will have to execute my timing a little more precisely on the next journey

                      2. re: Lazar

                        the argentinean empanadas are fantastic. the woman who works there said her sister makes them.

              2. It's kind of a trek for me too, but I could go for pizza or pho on Ossington and then finish off with a leisurely round of editing here while sipping is a long weekend, too. :)