214 Augusta might be home to Toronto's best cheap eats
On a Saturday afternoon at 214 Augusta Avenue the mood is riotous. It's difficult to believe that when owner Alfonso Segovia first opened six years ago, his empanada stand was the building's only vendor. Now, each food station has line-ups, and the smell of Latin flavors and spices sizzling and mingling from the vendors in the small Kensington Market space is intoxicating. With apologies to Plaza Latina, 214 Augusta is rapidly becoming Toronto's best source for Latin food (per square meter).
UPDATE: In August 2012 most of these vendors left 214 Augusta. From the original vendors, all that is now left is Pancho's Bakery and El Gordo. Seven Lives has since moved in.
Agave y Aguacate
The star of the show is undoubtedly Agave y Aguacate, helmed by charismatic owner and chef Francisco Alejandri. Alejandri's offerings of Mexican street food range from poblano and mushroom soup ($6), to chicken in red mole ($10), to the gourmet beef tongue ($11). Alejandri also offers a handful of deserts, including the outrageously popular--and rightly so--lime Charlotte, a mix of cookies and custard, topped with olive oil, maldon salt and lime zest.
Kim's a la Cart
Kim's a la Cart is the building's resident Korean street food stand, serving cucumber kimchi for $4, Korean pancakes from $1.75, a selection of pan-fried dumplings, and Korean tacos. The incredibly popular red bean waffle dessert ($2.50) emerges crispy and piping hot out of a fish-shaped press.
Antojitos Peruanos sees Lorena Ramos serving fragrant Peruvian gourmet foods on the weekend. Find tamalitos ($5), arroz con pollo--a stew of cilantro and saffron-tinged rice and chicken with carrots and red pepper, as well as a tilapia ceviche, among the changing menu.
Having been open just over a month and a half, Rebozos is a relative newcomer to 214 Augusta, bringing the authentic Mexican taste already made popular at their other location. Owner Indalecio Marroquin was drawn to Kensington Market for its significant pedestrian traffic, and 214 Augusta for its strong Latin community. Rebozos' soft tacos and carnitas (3 for $9) are assembled on-site, while their thick shredded pork pozole ($6), a traditional Mexican stew, is brought from the restaurant location and heated. Miniature sopes, which resemble a smaller, thicker tortilla laid flat and dressed to order, are available for $4.50.
Pancho's Bakery first opened at Dufferin and Davenport, and has been in 214 Augusta for 3 years, collecting a faithful following for its house-made churros ($1.50), which are crisped and sweetened to perfection. Pancho's bread-and-butter is their wide selection of Mexican bakery items--such as conchas ($2) made from shortbread--and each modeled after authentic Mexican recipes and made in-house at their Dufferin and Davenport location.
Avo brings Portuguese street food to Kensington Market. On the menu are salt cod fritters, shrimp fritters, veggie fritters (all $1 each or 5 for $4), sauteed shrimp, fries, orange salad, beef turnovers and fried corn miele.
Macondo's first and only location offers Colombian-style dishes such as beef and chicken empanadas ($2), cheese-filled tequenos--including choco-cheese, which includes Venezuelan chocolate--and patacones ($2), which are fried green plantains. Owner and chef Anita's next venture is a new stand on 214 Augusta's back patio, which will offer traditional parrilla foods like Latin-spiced steaks, barbecue, and sandwiches.
Alfonso Segovia runs El Gordo's stand of arepas and empanadas with partner Miri. Segovia's arepa base is a traditional Venezuelan cornbread, but the toppings are modeled after his own recipes. He aims for innovative flavors like chorizo with olives and kimchi empanadas, but the most popular menu item remains the beef empanada.
Segovia says of the vendors he chooses for 214 Augusta that "it's very important that they are professional chefs, and that they provide a unique experience." For the summer, look forward to Kensington's Pedestrian Sundays, when 214 Augusta's back patio will be awash in the smell of Latin-style barbecue and the sound of live music.
Photos by Christian Bobak