In the past year, the La Carnita family tripled in size. This popular taco joint started out years ago as a pop-up at TUM (Toronto Underground Market), the foodie market which launched numerous pop-ups into brick-and-mortar restaurants.
La Carnita (@) opened their first permanent location in 2012 at College and Bathurst. Earlier this year, they opened up this Riverside location (on Queen St., just east of Broadview), followed by a third location in the heart of the Entertainment District.
This Riverside location is deceivingly large. While the space is quite narrow, it’s very long – as we were being seated, it felt like the restaurant kept going and going. The décor and atmosphere is very similar to the original location. It has a dark and grungy feel with loud music.
We started out with the Avocado Mango Salad – cilantro-lime dressing, queso fresco & pepitas ($9). I remember loving this salad when I had it at the original location several years ago but unfortunately, it just wasn’t quite as good as I remembered. This time around, the salad was overdressed which overpowered the flavours of the actual ingredients.
One of La Carnita’s signature dishes is the Mexican Street Corn – Mexican crema, queso anejo, arbol & ancho chili powder ($8.50 for two). We see Mexican street corn (or variations of it) everywhere these days but La Carnita was the restaurant which made it so popular in this city.
One order of the corn comes with two full cobs, each one covered in a delicious mixture of crema, anejo cheese and topped with a spicy chili powder. Corn on the cob on its own is a messy thing to eat – top it with all of this and it becomes even more challenging to eat this like a lady. Be warned: don’t order this on a first date!
For another appetizer, we were debating between the meatballs and Barbacoa Pork Ribs - honey habanero ribs, Mexican crema, cilantro, hickory sticks ($12) but my mom was the deciding vote. These sweet and sticky ribs, which were topped with a generous handful of crispy hickory sticks, were a home run. Mom always knows best! They weren’t fall-off-the-bone tender but had a really nice chew to it. These ribs were the highlight of the meal!
You can’t come to La Carnita without trying their tacos, their claim to fame. One of their most popular tacos is the In Cod We Trust – cod, Voltron sauce, lime crema, pickled red cabbage, green apple & cilantro ($4.75). This city has some pretty good fish tacos but La Carnita’s is still one of my favourites. The cod is perfectly seasoned with a light, crispy batter and the green apple gives it a nice refreshing tartness. If you’re only going to order one taco here, it’s gotta be this one.
Another taco we ordered was the Pollo Fritto – crispy chicken thigh, peanut mole, honey, Rossy’s hot sauce, green cabbage & salsa fresco ($4.75). The fried chicken was moist on the inside and had this great crunch on the outside. I loved the sweet and spicy combination of the sauces and the cabbage added a nice freshness to it.
The last taco we tried was the Crispy Cotija – crispy cotija cheese, cauliflower & pinto bean, pickled carrots, chipotle sauce, green onion & cilantro ($4.75). While it wasn’t a bad taco, it just wasn’t for me. I’m not always a big fan of beans, so I’m a little biased towards this one. It was also a touch too salty for my liking. On the other hand, Mike enjoyed it and gladly ate my share of the taco.
Overall, we enjoyed our experience at La Carnita’s east side location. They are definitely a great addition to the ‘hood!
At a glance:
- Located near Queen and Broadview
- The Riverside location of La Carnita is one of their three locations
- Deceivingly large with plenty of seating
- Dark and grungy feel with loud music playing
- Highlights: Barbacoa pork ribs and the “In Cod We Trust” taco
Ratings (out of 5):
- Food: 3.5 stars
- Service: 3 stars
- Atmosphere: 3 stars