Mexican food has become increasingly popular in Vancouver over the last couple of years, with taquerias and “Mexi” food trucks popping up in every neighbourhood. In my opinion, it’s about bloody time! There are many ethnic restaurants in Vancouver, but I’ve always found it difficult to find authentic Mexican cuisine, with many of the restaurants favouring modern twists and variations on originals.
Owners Ignacio Arrieta, Marcelo Ramirez, Alfonso Sanz, and Andrew Morales opened the restaurant in April 2013 and have made a quick impact on the community through their new restaurant, which is known for its friendly atmosphere and diligent service. As the only mezcal bar in Canada, locals are having a time tasting the sixteen different kinds that they offer on a rotating basis.
While it may be the first mezcal bar on The Drive, it isn’t the first Mexican restaurant (vegetarian Bandidas is situated to the south), and it certainly won’t be the last to join the neighbourhood. It is, however, one that serves the closest to authentic Mexican food that I’ve found in the city thus far. And to top it off, they showcase live mariachi every Wednesday.
To get the full experience, I insisted on dining on a Wednesday…and I wasn’t the only one thinking that way. The restaurant was bustling! I nestled nice and close to the diners at my neighbouring table and prepared myself to be drawn back to my month and a half spent in Mexico. I felt that I had a good idea of what “authentic” tasted like as I had travelled all over the country with a local: Guadalajara (where Chef Alejandro Cruz is from), Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Aventuras, Aquascalientes, Monterrey, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico City, Cancun…the list goes on.
James and I were there to try the tasting menu that featured a starter, sharing plate and a cocktail or mezcal flight. Since we both have a sweet tooth we also ordered a dessert to share.
Para Picar (“Starters”)
Albacore Tuna Ceviche ($13)
Our server recommended this ceviche from the selection, and I had no hesitations at listening to him as the combination of albacore tuna, avocado and pork chicharrón (fried pork rinds) was enticing. With a little diced cucumber thrown in and a sprinkling of cilantro and radish it was a twist on a common ceviche.
This was a very small portion, but it was chock-full of delicious ingredients. It sat in a little mound looking delicate and refreshing, and it tasted just the same, except for the hint of spice that lingered in our mouths afterward. The tuna was good and the avocado was the ideal ripeness, but the chicharrón became slightly soggy from the citrus. I’m not a huge of chicharrón anyway, but I wanted James to try it.
Queso Fundido ($15)
Mezcaleria’s molten cheese fondue served in a volcanic rock molcajete topped with Mexican chorizo.
There is a reason that everyone is ranting and raving about this volcanic rock bowl of cheese. A regular fondue will no longer cut it after you eat out of this bad boy. Curious as to how they heated them we asked Ignacio, who pointed to the line of upside down bowls lining the inside of a wall-oven heated to 500 degrees. They WILL tell you to not touch the bowl for good reason, so listen to them, or just watch the cheese bubbling and steaming and you can probably put two and two together.
The fondue is a blend of Oaxaca cheese, mozzarella, Gruyère, and caramelized onions, and it is an inevitably messy dish. It’s suggested that you scoop the cheese blend into the soft tortillas, but they also serve it with tortilla chips if you prefer a little crunch. We topped ours with chorizo to add a meaty spice rather than the salsa verde; you can’t see it in the picture as James was overzealous and had stirred it in as instructed by our waiter. My favourite part about this dish is the hard cheese that forms against the inside wall of the bowl, so get scraping and don’t miss a morsel.
Para Compartir (“To Share”)
Tostadas De Pato ($10)
Fraser Valley duck confit, guava, fruit mole sauce (manchamanteles), chayote squash and radish.
Duck confit with fruit mole? I never had that in Mexico! It certainly wasn’t being served at my friend’s home and I must’ve been dining at the wrong restaurants. Naturally, I had to try it.
I was told that “mole is like mezcal and is different in every region”, which trumped my idea that mole was always chocolate-based, heavy in chili peppers and somewhat chalky. That’s the only kind of mole that I’ve ever been served and I’ve never done my research. I’m not sure if it was the guava in the mole, or the fat from the duck confit, that smoothed out the sauce and made it rich and delectable without being too dry. I definitely prefer the fruit mole over the chocolate mole, loving it’s immediate and lingering sweetness, yet savoury nuance.
The mild flavour of the creamy chayote squash complemented the bold flavour of the protein, while the grated radish added colour and a slight crunch.
Enchiladas Clasicas ($12)
Filled with chicken (other options are cheese or beans), topped with green tomatillo, onion, cream and Mexican cheese.
These enchiladas were smothered in sauce and boasted traditional tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken. The dish was creamy, flavourful and came with a hint of spice from the green tomatillo. There is something about Mexican cheese that takes an okay enchilada and turns it into a delicious one. Sadly, it can’t be replicated by any of the local producers, otherwise I’d be adding it to every dish.
In my opinion, it was odd that for a sharing plate they would have three enchilada portions rather than four.
Daily Special – Caramel Mexican Flan
The consistency of a caramel flan (or creme caramel) is similar to a creme brûlée as they are both custard-based desserts. They should be sweet, smooth and gelatinous. The main difference between the two is the “burnt” surface on brûlées, rather than the soft caramel sauce that tops the flans.
Don’t let the small jar fool you – it’s deep, and the flan is rich and perfect for sharing. We loved the challenge of trying to get some of the caramel from the bottom to have in every bite as the spoon took up a third of the jar.
Agua Fresca del dia con piquete.
The cocktail was a spiked fruit water that changes on a daily basis. The day we were in it was a pomegranate grapefruit concoction that I personally thought would’ve tasted better with sparkling water rather than still water. They didn’t skimp out on the tequila in it though.
Espadin Mezcal Flight ($23 – $43)
Customized flights that vary by season and availability.
I will unabashedly admit that I am not a mezcal expert. I’ve probably only had it on a handful of occurrences in my life. That said, despite loving that the shot glasses instructed consumers to sip rather than shoot, I knew that much at least. I first learned that in Mexico at the ripe age of 18 when my friend’s grandma sipped on a shot of tequila at lunch. This notion was alien to me as you can imagine.
Fortunately, my lack of knowledge didn’t deter me from trying a flight, and conveniently I didn’t have to choose the three that I was to drink. On my slate was Scorpion Silver (“A bold, pure mescal”), Fidencio Unico (“Clear and impeccably clean. Slightly sweet and subtle aromas of road tar, charcoal, and baked green apple.”) and Rey Zapoteco (“Handcrafted from Santiago Matatlan, World Capital of Mezcal”). Similar to a wine flight we were told to drink from left to right (conveniently numbered one to three), to taste the lightest to the boldest. For a side/chaser we were offered fresh lime juice and house-made Sangrita aka “Little Blood”.
What is mezcal?
Mezcal (also: Mescal or Meskal) is a spirit distilled from mash made out of the steamed hearts of various species of agaves. The word mezcal comes from the Aztec language, the Nahuatl, and means “cooked agave”: mezcalli from metl = agave, ixcalli = cooked. Historically, mezcal is the general term of agave spirits made in Mexico. [direct from their site ]
La Mezcaleria is located at 1622 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, BC. Open six evenings per week – closed Mondays.