Serving up Latino street food, Valdez (@thevaldezTO) is a new King West hotspot brought to you by Steve Gonzalez. If his name sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve seen him on Top Chef (Season 1). Since he appeared on the show, we’ve all been patiently waiting for his restaurant to open.
At last, he was able to secure the King and Portland location which previously housed the Cheval nightclub. The space, which features a gorgeous rooftop patio, is dark, loud and has a casual feel to it. As the night went on, the music and crowd seemed to get increasingly loud making it incredibly difficult to hold a conversation.
Anyway, upon entering the restaurant, our first impressions weren’t great. We walked into the restaurant to find three hostesses there. Not one of them acknowledged us, leaving us feeling completely ignored. A little while later, after acknowledging our existence, we were seated on a couch in a lounge area where we met Abbey (@AbbeysKitchen) and her partner for our double date.
We had a reservation so I thought it was odd that we were seated in this lounge area first. After receiving our drinks, we were then seated at our table. Five minutes later, they moved us to another table to make room for a larger party. They’re a new restaurant so I guess they’re still working out the kinks…
After being seated in our permanent seats, we finally got down to ordering some food. According to their website, “Valdez delivers classics of Latin American culture in both food and drink, with a global twist.” It’s a great place to come with several other people since most of their dishes are perfect for sharing. They also have an Adobo pork shoulder on their menu which requires a minimum of 8 people ($27/person) and needs to be ordered 48 hours in advance.
I’ll talk about the drinks first. I started out with the El Valiente – Trombo blanco + Hill’s Genuine Absinthe + pineapple juice ($12) which I found a little too thick and sweet for my liking.
My second drink was the Marga’rica – Tromba blanco + Aperol + Cointreau ($9) which had a nice spicy rub around the rim and was really, really delicious!
To start, we had the Chips & Guac – plantain, yucca, taro, potato, avocado, onion, chili & cilantro ($8). I really enjoyed the chips which reminded me of the Terra root vegetable chips. As much as I like corn tortilla chips, these chips were a welcome change. The guac was also very solid and was a great start to our meal.
Up next was the Fried Empanadas – corn meal, pork, potatoes, L5S & aji ($9) which arrived in a cute little brown paper bag to match the restaurant’s “street food” theme. They had a crunchy exterior and the filling was so-so. Overall, a decent dish but nothing memorable.
Something interesting we tried was the Pastel – cream cheese, guava paste & wonton ($6). If you like sweet and savoury, chances are you’ll enjoy this combination. The fried wonton wrapper gave it some crunch, the cream cheese gave it a nice smoothness and the guava paste added some sweetness.
Another fried dish we ordered was the Croquetas – rice, chicken, peppers, saffron & chipotle aioli ($6) which were quite similar to arancini. They had a crisp exterior and were fried well but were a little bland. Good thing they were served with some tasty chipotle aioli!
Up next was the Chuzos al Plancha – beef skewers, chimichurri & arepa ($7). I really enjoyed the chimichurri sauce and the fried arepa. It’s just too bad the beef was overcooked, making it a little chewy.
The menu at Valdez features 5 different ceviches which comes in 2 sizes (tasting size or full size). If you can’t make up your mind, you can get a flight containing a taste of each ceviche for $15. We decided to go with a full-size Atún Japonés – ahi tuna, watermelon, radish, ponzu, pickled ginger and pear ($17).
It had a very fresh taste to it with a bit of sweetness from the watermelon.Size-wise, I found the portion to be a bit on the small for $17. Everyone at the table seemed to enjoy it but I personally didn’t love it or hate it.
Now, onto the more substantial dishes…the first to arrive was the Chaufa – fried rice, duck confit, edamame, egg, soy, chili & tobiko ($17). With the soy, tobiko and edamame, this dish shouts “fusion” which usually scares me off but this turned out to be our favourite dish of the evening.
The duck confit was a nice protein to pair with the fried rice and I enjoyed the addition of the tobiko which gave each bite a little pop. If you’re not a meat-eater, a vegan option is available for this as well.
After the rice, we were served Giggy’s Trout – togarashi, quinoa, yuzu, mango, avocado & fried shallots ($17). The trout was cooked perfectly with a wonderful crisp skin and a moist interior. I especially loved how they added fried shallots to the dish, which by the way, are one of the best garnishes ever.
While the trout was perfect, I didn’t enjoy the sauce that it came with which was incredibly citrusy (likely from the heavy use of yuzu). The entire table agreed that the sauce just wasn’t quite working.
Up next was the Pupusa – corn flour, gruyere, mushrooms, cabbage & sundried tomato sauce ($13) which for me, was the least successful dish of the evening. I’ve never had a pupusa before but I found the exterior too hard and dry for my liking. It was really hard to cut into and eat…and the filling just had a bit of an odd flavour which I didn’t enjoy.
For dessert, we tried the Tres Leches Pudding – coconut, whole milk, rice, mango, banana & salsa inglésa ($7). The rice pudding was creamy, not too sweet and had a slight bitterness from the caramelized bananas on top. It was a definite hit for me!
We ended up with some Helado de Salpicon ($2 each). Our server described these to us as a lollipop so that was what we were expecting but they turned out to be popsicles. He also explained how in Mexico, they sell them for 10 cents each on the street which made us wonder out loud why we were then paying $2 for them. “Because we aren’t in Mexico” was our servers response.
Anyway, the popsicles of the day consisted of watermelon, salt and “some other fruits” according to our server.
Overall, I left Valdez feeling a little disappointed. I really wanted to like the restaurant but some of the food missed the mark and the service was a little hit and miss. But they’re a new restaurant, so hopefully with time they can work out some of the service and food kinks.
At a glance:
• Latino street food brought to you by Steve Gonzalez (Top Chef season 1 contestant)
• Tapas-style dishes; 5 different ceviches
• Located at King and Portland
• Closed Sundays
• Very loud inside the restaurant which gets increasingly louder as the night goes on (hard to have a conversation)
• The food and service was a little hit and miss; visited when they were open for only a few weeks so hopefully they’ll work out some of the kinks
Ratings (out of 5):
• Food: 2.5 stars
• Service: 2 stars
• Atmosphere: 2 stars