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Restaurants

El Catrin

Posted by Liora Ipsum / Profiled on July 30, 2013 / review policy

El Catrin TorontoEl Catrin is the newly opened Mexican restaurant in the Distillery District taking over the former site of The Boiler House -- though still under the same proprietorship. The drama and scale of the main dining room designed by Munge Leung is impressive. Jaw dropping features include oversized folk art inspired chandeliers and a massive mural by Oscar Flores that's lit with black lights so that the colours glow and vibrate. Glowing sugar skulls peak out from various nooks -- it's kind of like a moneyed Mexican funhouse.

Executive chef Olivier LeCalvez has been in Toronto mere months having been recruited directly from Mexico where the French-trained chef and Cordon Bleu Mexico instructor had been working and living with his family. Now in Toronto, he's developed a menu of authentic favourites listed alongside modern twists that take advantage of premium Canadian ingredients, think; foie gras tostadas ($9) or lobster and gauc burritos ($14) made from housemade tortillas.

On this visit, we sit outside on the equally spectacular, sprawling patio surrounded by colourfully enameled, papel picado-inspired screens, lantern-like lighting and central firepit. The oversized (almost ridiculously so) menus unfold like a map offering delicious points of interest to visit.

El Catrin TorontoI sample mainly from the botanas (snack) list, starting with the Ensalada de Nopal ($8). The chopped cactus salad isn't slimy like past experiences I've had with the ingredient - it's even pleasantly similar to raw green peppers tossed with a citrusy vinaigrette.

El Catrin TorontoThe Ensalada Destileria ($8) is another summery dish made with grilled shrimp green papaya, mango, cilantro and radish.

El Catrin TorontoThe Vuelve a la Vida El Catrin ($8) is one of several ceviches on offer. It's a three-bite max, oyster shell loaded with chopped shrimp, octopus, scallops and oyster mixed with cucumber, jicama and cocktail sauce.

El Catrin TorontoThe bar menu numbers 85 tequilas, though the plan is to accumulate at least 140 different bottles. For now you'll have to settle for shots ranging from $4 to $208 per ounce (come'on ballers you know you want to try this 15 year aged Clase Azul Ultra Extra Anejo that comes in a platinum, gold and silver gilded bottle).

El Catrin TorontoCocktails and mezcalteles are dangerously easy to drink. I tried a few and can attest to deliciousness of the Pepino Diablo ($9), a muddled cucumber and limeade drink, rimmed with tajín seasoning.

El Catrin TorontoEl Catrin opens daily at noon for lunch (and soon to come, weekend brunch) until 5pm when dinner is served until 11pm. There are two long banquet tables equipped for large parties in semi-private spaces plus an event space in the back still under construction. The restaurant is large, but I'll bet it's still going to attract long lines. Reservations are accepted.

El Catrin TorontoPhotos by Jesse Milns

Discussion

42 Comments

Danielle / July 30, 2013 at 11:54 am
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Nice photos.
sw / July 30, 2013 at 12:28 pm
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Great pics!
Chris / July 30, 2013 at 12:36 pm
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Was there this past weekend.

Ugg, what a joke.

$14 for three little tortilla "crackers" of guac and a thin slice of beef. (You could add a fourth cracker for $5 – does that make sense?)

Young and friendly, but inexperienced staff – the waiter kept coming back to us asking what we ordered.

Don’t expect to eat a “meal” here – its all tapas. If you’re hungry, expect to drop $30-$45 EACH PERSON on a couple or three items.

Since it’s in a tourist area they really don’t care if you come back again, thus the high price gouging. Not recommended unless you have more money than sense.
vv / July 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm
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They dont pick up their phone - cant make reservations. The place is dead to me. Bring boiler house back.
Deric / July 30, 2013 at 12:52 pm
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I have a feeling that this place will thrive for a few months and then sizzle out when people stop heading out there for the patio. I give it a year, before people realize that there are much better places to eat Mexican in this city.
Tallet / July 30, 2013 at 01:06 pm
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Is this place kid friendly? Looks like a bunch of drunks hang out at this spot, gotta stay away.
SUGNUTTER / July 30, 2013 at 01:15 pm
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Can I bring my dog, skinny jeans and Junction Growler beers with me? (Sorry I'm from the "Junc" and super sweet - not sure what's kosher in the distillery).

I think I can get downtown in 3.5 hours via TTC so will shoot for a 10 PM sitting.
Me / July 30, 2013 at 01:31 pm
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After looking at the pics, my question is: Do they have any real food?
you'resilly replying to a comment from Tallet / July 30, 2013 at 01:37 pm
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We can only hope they arent.
TJ / July 30, 2013 at 02:16 pm
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Every plate of food pictured is a 2 bite plate yet they charge full appetizer prices on them. Another example of a place that charges you an arm and a leg for appearance rather than substance.
Za / July 30, 2013 at 02:22 pm
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Don't bother! The worst service ever with the smallest overpriced portions. Typical tourist trap tapas bar where they get you with the glitz and glam from the outside and absolutely no delivery on service from the wait staff. The hostess told us there are no tables available and when we asked if we can sit at the bar, she said no as they are all booked up. Decided to walk in and take a look around and found the restaurant half empty! Highlights were the Sangria (delicious) and the bartender who was kind enough to seat us at a table. I can't see this place lasting long, unless they fix their ish!
GAY GUY / July 30, 2013 at 02:41 pm
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Place is garbage stay away
PleaseandThankYou replying to a comment from Tallet / July 30, 2013 at 02:45 pm
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One can only hope they ban the little noise making puke machines.
Liberty Villain / July 30, 2013 at 03:04 pm
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THE LARGEST PLATES IN TOWN! Oh wait... they're just small portions.
littleplates / July 30, 2013 at 03:34 pm
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new's flash... it's a tapas bar....

tapas by nature are small plates
AJ / July 30, 2013 at 04:22 pm
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Mexican food just doesn't strike me as one that needs to fancied up. Give me a solid burrito or tacos any day but this looks like they're trying way too hard. Don't know that they'll survive long in that area.
Don / July 30, 2013 at 11:58 pm
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It'd be great if they had like two steak tacos for $10-$12 AND good quality juicy strips of beef....mmmm mmmm mmm
TRG / July 31, 2013 at 08:40 am
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The restaurant is owned by the distillery district, hence why they charge ridiculous prices.
normal guy / July 31, 2013 at 10:03 am
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People, it's a new restaurant - if there are no seats available, but it appears seats are available the kitchen probably can't handle the load.

Also, for all you penny pinchers it's a restaurant in the distillery district, if you want bang for your buck go to mcdonalds or taco bell - you are paying for ambience.
Kelly R / July 31, 2013 at 11:43 am
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The Chef at El Catrin was one of the Top chef's in Mexico City. I think this place has awesome well balanced flavourful food. El Catrin is not a Tex/Mex burrito joint - it is an authentic representation of traditional and modern mexican cuisine.

Tapas ( small plates range from 6 - 14 bucks ) are meant to sample and share with friends. $30 before drinks will get you pretty full depending on what you order.

My Mexican friends love it & I will be back.

Pictures above are great
Ell / July 31, 2013 at 01:33 pm
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Tried getting in last nite at 7pm: plenty of tables available but walk-ins only after 9pm. Went to the patio across at the Mill St. Pub.

Both places full of tourists, 905ers and the younger crowd who don't care. It serves me right for leaving the confines of Leslieville. It is wonderful the chef is top rated in his native Mexico to open up a D-B place in the DD full of the unappreciative.

Gimme a break and call it what it is.



Dan / July 31, 2013 at 02:42 pm
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Went last night with the partner, here's my experience:

Greeted by a friendly wait staff, she told us about the work that was done to renovate the place. They brought in street artists from Mexico and I thought it looked great. They definitely made some structural changes inside since it was the Boiler House. I enjoyed the large muraled wall where there used to be an open second floor.

The waitress came and dropped off three salsas on our table and took our drink orders, I had a sol, girlfriend had a watermelon mixed drink. She said it was good, but not great, which set the tone for the rest of the night.

We were told upfront it was a tapas style menu and it was recommended we order two plates each to start. I went with the whole corn on the cob and grilled jumbo shrimp, she ordered corn soup and the tacos el pastor (shaved pork). We were asked if we wanted guacamole to start as well, and we complied.

At that point I would have prefered some more clarity on whether the guac was complimentary, but once we were greated with avocado and fixings in a mortar and pestol I knew there was a charge. The guac was undoubtedly fresh, but I would have liked some more salt on it (not sure, but if it's traditionally served without salt, I blame my Canadian palate)

The corn was great, and my girlfriend enjoyed the corn soup. Coming in at ten dollars combined, these dishes definitely represented a good value to me.

We found the tacos a little bland, and loaded up on the salsa they provided.

The grilled jumbo shrimp at $14 seemed like a great deal to me. I'm a little biased as a shrimp lover, but it was well cooked and massive. The tortillas left a little to be desired for me.

The desert platter was $16, and again, I saw some value in it. We had the fudge, churros and a tres leche cake. It comes with some stale caramel corn which was a little off-putting. The fudge was almost too decadent, the churros fantastic, and the tres leche cake nice and moist.

Overall, with a tip it came to about $50 each for the meal and one drink each.

I'd go if a friend wanted, but I probably wouldn't offer it up as a suggestion.

Overall, 7.5 out of 10

Murray K / August 1, 2013 at 08:56 am
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I will definately be back

LOVED the food ( Favourites - Guac mashed tableside, Tuna Cheviche, Gringa, Taco Pastor, Escidas and of course the Churros )
Loved the vibe ( and music )
Really LOVED the food
The mural and chandeliers are awesome
LOVED the food.

Serioisly though ... the food is incredible .. don’s let the big design distract you from the taste and flovours of the cuisine. Real Modern Mexican is now being served in Toronto. Thank you El catrin.
getouttahere replying to a comment from Murray K / August 1, 2013 at 02:00 pm
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You must own the joint.

"Real modern mexian is now being served in Toronto"? Who writes that?
Azicallit replying to a comment from getouttahere / August 1, 2013 at 04:28 pm
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Don't you just hate it when guys like murrayk get sloshed on margaritas and try to post a comment? SHEESH.
PJ / August 2, 2013 at 12:10 am
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Come hungry and rich, leave hungry and poor. Food is tasty, but it is very expensive for what you get. 3 beers, 3 tapas dishes and we were already pushing $80 inc tax and tip...
John D replying to a comment from AJ / August 2, 2013 at 11:40 am
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You want Burritos? Go to "Burrito Burrito" or "Chipotle".Torontonians think Quesadillas, burritos and chimichangas are mexican. It doesn't get more ignorant then that. Don't confuse TexMex with real authentic Mexican cuisine. I lived in Mexico City for years and this is the real deal. Yes portions are small, but they are supposed to be... it's a tapas place. It's not cheap, but the food is top notch.
Sarah / August 3, 2013 at 11:36 pm
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I went for the second time since it opened because it is in my neighbourhood. I thought I would give it another chance. Sadly the second visit was just as bad, so it being a new restaurant is no excuse for seriously bland food and very unattentive service. Here's my take, the good and the bad:

Good:
- gauc is fresh and made at the table with a mortar and pestil
- margaritas
- street art that adorns the large inside wall

Bad:
- chips with gauc were chewy and stale
- tacos are SO bland, zero flavour. Same experience both visits. Not only bland but looked terrible on the plate (fried haddock was like a mess on the plate -- one taco had like 95% batter and 5% fish)
- service is very very slow and disorganized.
- octopus rubbery (overcooked) and ZERO flavour. I mean how hard is it to squirt some lime and add some herbs?
- grill plate of various meats and seafood with veggies is also flavourless
- overpriced by a long shot. La Carnita & Playa Cabana put this place to shame

I won't be back. I am pretty bummed about it because it is 5 minutes from my house!

This place will probably do well from though from the tourists and 905ers alike.
hungry waiter / August 5, 2013 at 02:09 pm
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I have yo say I had the exact opposite experience of all of these patrons. If you don't like tapas why bother going and complaining about it? I work in the service industry and am usually quite critical but our server (Pamela) was lovely and informative about the menu, we didn't wait for anything other than the table-which merely caused a stop at the oyster bar across the lane-way. Why do people in this city insist on complaining so much?
Maria O. / August 6, 2013 at 05:59 pm
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PEST CONTROL PROBLEM.


This place is filled with rodents.

Andrea / August 22, 2013 at 10:31 am
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A tip for those going to try this place out - Make a reservation. We called in and were told that reservations were for inside the restaurant only, not the pario. Since we preferred patio seats, we had no choice but to wait in line for an hour. However, while standing in line, we saw each and every group with reservations get offered tables on the patio. All were seated on the patio within 5 minutes, ahead of all those in line.

I am not complaining about the wait. We were only annoyed once we saw all those reservations get patio tables even though we were told otherwise.

Other than that food and service was great. Yeah a little pricier than I would normally pay, but worth it.
Callum / February 15, 2014 at 04:36 pm
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Decided to try this place out for brunch this afternoon and was totally blown away. Best Huevos Rancheros I've had in the city. The waitress was friendly, funny and very helpful. Will definitely be coming back for dinner, maybe when the weather picks up and we can try out the patio.
Sarah / April 8, 2014 at 10:40 am
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I lived in Mexico for years. The food at this place is very bland and has no flavor. There are far better Mexican spots in the city. Our service was also very slow. I will never go back.
RAUL FINOL / May 6, 2014 at 02:15 pm
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Last sunday I had the opportunity to gofor lunch with my guest from Curacao.
The experience was really great, I had some expectation because I read some of the commnets about the restaurant.
Service excellent we had the blessing to have Luis L as host, and he was very kindly and helpful with the menu.
We found the price very reasonable.
El Catrin is a museum of Mexican Food.
The decoration spectacular.
will I go again? no doubt.
Darlene replying to a comment from Tallet / June 1, 2014 at 08:46 am
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Not kid friendly at all. You may be able to entertain a potty trained 3 year old if they are not scared out of their minds by the painted skull faces on the hosts and waiters, but don't even think of bringing a baby, unless you want to change their diaper on your chair. Zero change tables and too overstimsulating for their little bodies.
ChrisB / June 24, 2014 at 11:24 am
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Funny reading all the above comments. Seems like people were expecting a Taco Bell that serves beer. LMAO Well its not meant to be, its great authentic Mexican with a modern twist, amazing tequila to top off a good ambiance. You are paying for the environment and great food and drinks. Otherwise go get Taco Bell to go and crack your 24 at home.
sara / July 9, 2014 at 01:28 pm
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not good and over priced.
fay / August 15, 2014 at 02:01 am
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We will never go back. Went there for lunch on Thursday. Our server took her time to greet us at the table. She was unfriendly and didnt seem like she wanted to even be there. The burrito was teeny tiny, and the side salad was a hallow and bland pile of lettuce leaf fluff. Bad waiting service and mediocre food. It wasnt until tip time did our server force a fake smile and thank you. For that price, the level of service and portions were ridiculous.
Myriam / September 26, 2014 at 11:00 am
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I was there for the first time last night. I absolutely loved it. I'm Mexican and vegetarian and I really enjoyed my Tortilla Soup and Huarache Oaxaqueno. I needed something really spicy so they brought me habanero sauce which was also delicious. One of the things I liked the most is it's refined atmosphere. Yes, pricey, but it goes with the place. You can also eat cheaper mexican food at Augusta street, looking at all the graffitti on the walls, the dirt on the street and the rundown buildings. It's a personal choice.
Tbone / October 28, 2014 at 06:52 pm
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Go to Grand Electric. Best tacos and the prices are cheap as haylll

This place is overpriced and overrated. I've also noticed the rodent infestation (ahem, I mean the wall to wall 905'ers)

Mikey replying to a comment from Chris / November 2, 2014 at 03:43 pm
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Could not agree more!!!!!!!!!!!
Dse replying to a comment from Kelly R / December 17, 2014 at 12:18 pm
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My experience was identical to the vast majority of the people here. It's like dipping a Saltine into ketchup and calling it "Upscale Youth Food."
There is little "mexican" about this place. Great that the chef comes from mexico, educated somewhere else where he learned to fluff a taco into some weird concoction of octopus or oyster.
The ambience is great. Drinks are overpriced but good. Waiters have a high turnover, and the salsa... don't get me started. I've had spicier ketchup.
The owner of the restaurant tells me "the chef prefers flavour over heat." Hmmm....it's quite possible to have both, and when you offer three various "heats" and none of them are flavourful, then perhaps your chef missed the donkey.
Avoid this place unless you've got the cash and the time to burn, and need to impress someone with how much you can spend on so little and low quality food.

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