I brought Blondie, my oldest daughter, for tacos at La Taqueria, the day before Family Day. She was keen to try a review spot one-on-one with her old man again. Her and my eldest, The Boy, have both come to appreciate the novelty of sharing a meal that ends up described in print a few days later and have, to my great satisfaction, developed adventurous and sophisticated palates along the way.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a sign on the door that said the day’s opening was delayed due to a power outage. While we were reading the sign a friendly Taqueria staffer popped out to tell us it would be another 20 minutes or so before we could dine. Blondie and I popped over to a park in nearby Norgate and whiled some minutes away getting dizzy on freezing cold spinning contraptions. When we returned, nary a quarter of an hour later, La Taqueria was packed, as in standing room only.
A wave of relief washed over me as I watched the orders fly into the kitchen fast and furious, signature metal plates topped with double corn tortilla tacos of pork, beef, and fish reaching tables as quickly as chits could reach the cook’s line. I was relieved, you see, because I have been on a program of revisiting restaurants that have featured in Dish reviews in years past, with a view to ensuring that our respected, established local businesses remain top of mind alongside the splashy, newly opened restaurants that we all clamor to try.
There has been a rash of restaurant closures in recent months and I have personally been contacted by a few restaurateurs describing their struggles with independent operation in today’s business climate. The reasons for restaurants folding are many, but common challenges include increased competition by larger corporate players, who seem to command a disproportionate percentage of the dining audience, exorbitant rents, staff retention woes (especially on the kitchen side), and what I have described before as our city’s tendency towards whatsnewism, which is the habit of trying a place once, enjoying it, but then never returning, opting instead to visit the next newly opened restaurant.
I was dismayed, but not shocked, to learn recently that the consistently excellent Canyon Restaurant in Edgemont Village is calling it quits after six-plus years of business. Chef-owner Scott Kidd has been candid about the challenges of operating a higher-end, independent restaurant in Edgemont Village and I guess, in the end, the considerable effort outweighed the reward. I read a comment on a social media site about this news in which the poster said “I am sorry to see it close before I had the chance to visit.” It must be tough to read such testimony when one has been running a business for more than six years. Chances abounded, I would suggest.
The charming Baker and Baron Café on Marine Drive near Lloyd Avenue has also shut down in recent weeks. Owner David Goelst shared with me that he was heartbroken to shutter his business and lamented not being able to attract a more stable clientele with 100 per cent from scratch fare prepared with care and attention to detail every day. I always found the service from David and his wife and business partner Barbara (the eponymous Baker) to be warm and inviting. I’m sorry to see them go.
Other casualties of late include Apero Kitchen, Central Lonsdale’s Vera’s Burger Shack, and I see that the windows are now all papered over at the long-running Inn Cogneato in West Vancouver.
I cannot compel anyone to go anywhere, but my hope is that as I revisit good spots for this column from time to time, diners will consider dropping in on some of their long forgotten favourites and help keep our local scene thriving with diverse options.
Now, back to La Taqueria, last considered in this column in 2015. As Blondie and I ordered at the till, a spot became available at one of the crowded communal tables and we snagged it. This is not a spot to sit and linger over your meal as everyone in the steady lineup tends to scour the room for seating while they wait, eyes darting like hungry cats selecting their prey. I like to encourage my kids to keep an open mind when dining and so it was that I coaxed Blondie into trying a bite of my Lengua taco, made with slowly braised beef tongue, salsa verde, chopped onions and cilantro. Tongue is a lean but flavourful cut of beef and works well in a taco, where other bold flavours compete for attention. The idea of eating tongue regrettably eclipsed the actual experience of eating it for Blondie, and so that taco remained largely unshared.
La Taqueria tacos are available in four inch “street” variety wrapped in two corn tortillas (great for sampling multiple fillings, which here include numerous vegetarian options), or six-inch flour tortilla versions with an emphasis on seafood. La Taqueria also serves burritos, quesadillas, and, following a recent menu expansion, hefty salads with all manner of greens and veggies to which your choice of grilled protein can be added.
Among the other tacos sampled on my visit was the Baja, a six-inch flour tortilla taco with three sizeable prawns deep fried to golden in a light batter and topped with chipotle mayo, cabbage, and salsa fresca; a four-inch Carnitas made with succulent confit pork and pickled red onions (this is my favourite taco on the menu); a Cachete made with exceptionally tender braised beef cheeks with spicy salsa verde; an Asada made with nicely seared and well seasoned lean beef; a Pastor comprised of dry-rubbed pork topped with seared pineapple; an Enfrijolada made simply with beans and cheese; and a surprisingly robustly flavoured Rajas con Crema with stewed Poblano peppers, sweet corn, mozzarella cheese and tangy sour cream.
I took the chill off the afternoon with a bowl of Tortilla Soup that featured a tart and complex Guajillo chicken and tomato broth studded with cabbage, crispy tortilla strips, chipotle-seasoned pulled chicken, sweet corn, cheese and sour cream. The soup is a good value at $6.75.
La Taqueria features a help-yourself fridge full of freshly made sauces to add to your items, as well as a heavy stone communal bowl of spicy pickles to complement your meal. Soft drinks and house-made Horchata (a sweetened, cold, cinnamon-spice rice drink) round out the menu.
Our meal, which also included two soft drinks and an order of hot churros with caramel dipping sauce, was $52.
La Taqueria, 1305 Welch Street, North Vancouver (LaTaqueria.com) 604-971-4744.