Chef's Choice: Miriam Flores of La Cantina Urban Taco Bar 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - TACO TIME Miriam Flores, head chef at the newly-opened La Cantina Urban Taco Bar, says the Rockfish is the most popular offering on the menu.
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis
  • TACO TIME Miriam Flores, head chef at the newly-opened La Cantina Urban Taco Bar, says the Rockfish is the most popular offering on the menu.

I'm sitting in the newly opened La Cantina Urban Taco Bar, listening to a Mexican remix of what I think is a U2 song.

The patio outside is packed and a steady stream of patrons make their way to the counter up front.

Before long, head chef Miriam Flores appears carrying three different tacos for me to try: the House Chorizo (shrimp and pork chorizo topped with jalapeno aioli and rustic tomato salsa), the crowd-pleasing Rockfish (pan-seared, breaded fish topped with cucumber pico de gallo) and... Beef Tongue?

"Are you scared?" Flores asks, after I burst into a nervous laughter at the sight of it.

OK, maybe a little bit.

My wary reaction to the La Cantina Beef Tongue taco isn't unique, Flores tells me, and as it turns out, neither is my reaction to the taste.

As anyone adventurous enough to try it will find out, it's delicious; definitely more beef-like than what I imagine a tongue to taste like.

The Chorizo is pretty tasty as well; the Pineapple Sauce I added (one of several in-house sauces you can employ to manually spice up your taco) makes the initial bite sweet, but not so sweet as to quench the jalapeno aioli.

But, as with most of La Cantina's clientele, I'm quick to name the Rockfish as my favourite.

"It's pretty popular," Flores says of the Rockfish. "It's the most popular that we have."

The majority of the menu is authentically Mexican, a welcome respite from the standard beef, cheese and sour cream fare you'll find at many places.

And there's much more to the menu than my three initial samplings.

There's the Brisket (made with Dos Equis chile gurjillo sauce and served on a bed of Baba Ganoush) and the Pork Belly (made with Kao Paigu sauce and topped with citrus, kimchi salad and pickled onion) or the Chicken or Tuna.

Everything on the menu looks deliciously unique, and every taco is priced for the thrifty at just $3 or less.

The focus, Flores tells me, is more on locals, or anyone who is just looking for a quick snack.

"It's not like a full menu, but if you choose three they can feed you very well," she says.

"Before, it was the Mexican Corner here. So it's the same family, but now they've moved it, so that one is more for tourist people, and this one is more for locals, but really, it can be for anyone."

With additional vegetarian and vegan options, La Cantina really can be for anyone.

There's the Tofu (served with Chilorio sauce and topped with bean sprout salad and crushed peanuts), the Veggie (chayote, zucchini and cactus in a pipian sauce) or the Cubano (spicy beans, tabbouleh, avocado and rustic tomato salsa) with three varieties of salad to go along with anything on the menu.

"(The vegetarian options) are not really popular in Mexico, but we've made it because we see that people need it," Flores says.

There's also a fine selection of imported beers to wash down whatever mix and matched tacos you may have decided to go with.

But it isn't always easy bringing Mexican authenticity north of the 49th parallel, Flores said.

"Sometimes we don't have all the things that we need," she said.

"We try to manage."

And while the kitchen staff isn't entirely sourced from Mexico, the flavor most certainly is.

"We give the taste to everything, and we make everything with love," Flores said with a laugh.

"That's the most important, and we are pretty happy to give the food to everyone."

Rockfish Tacos


1lb – rockfish

2 – large eggs

2 – cups crushed cornflakes

½ - cup water

1 tsp – ground pepper

(Mix the eggs with the water. Cut the rockfish into large pieces then dredge in the flour, then the egg mixture, then the crushed cornflakes and fry. Put in the corn soft tortilla. Top it with the pico de gallo cucumber and salsa guajillo)

Pico de gallo cucumber (toppings)

1lb – Roma tomato, diced in cubes

1 – medium cucumber, diced in cubes

½ - red onion, diced in cubes

½ - cilantro, chopped

10ml – lime juice

(Mix everything and add salt to taste)

Salsa Guajillo Mayo

1tsp – salt

1/2tsp – cayenne

1/2tsp – white pepper

1/2tsp – paprika

1 cup – mayo

1 cup – guajillo chile

(Blend it all together in a blender and mix very well until you get a creamy sauce)

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