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Restaurants

La Carnita

Posted by Ryan Spencer / Reviewed on June 14, 2012 / review policy

la carnita torontoLa Carnita has permanently "popped up" in the former location of Briscola near the corner of College and Palmerston. The restaurant unites the talents of Andrew Richmond, a designer turned chef, and entrepreneur Amin Todai, both of whom have been at the forefront of the culinary zeitgeist that is the pop-up food craze. Over the last year or so, they've been sending Toronto's food enthusiasts into a frenzy with their series of one-off appearances that marry top notch tacos with street art and a general party vibe.

la carnita torontoUpon entering, it's hard to imagine how the space was once an upscale Italian eatery, especially considering the saucy 'Gringo' spelled out in the entranceway tiles. Not content to entirely forego the "get-it-while-it's-here" mentality of its previous life, the restaurant is currently not accepting reservations, but seating about 80 people and featuring a sizeable bar, La Carnita's vibe and atmosphere are only seconded by the food itself. Where else can you grab a forty of O.E. ($13.50 for a litre) and listen to R. Kelly blaring on the speakers?

la carnita torontoRichmond has stated that authenticity isn't La Carnita's main objective. Rather, it's his own interpretation of Mexican Street Food, which drops in a few Asian accents. This is perfectly apparent in his signature dish, In Cod We Trust ($5). Hints of lemongrass permeate the famous Voltron Sauce that's drizzled over a beer-battered cod, then topped with refreshingly crisp cabbage and tart julienned green apple.

The house-made duo of chorizo (red and green) was outstanding at $5, and was my personal favourite to boot. This isn't the same chorizo you'd find in Little Portugal; hints of clove round out the heat in the crumbled meat that's topped with escabeche (pickled onion), sweet mango and queso cotija (similar to a mild feta). It's a dish that draws on Mexican flavours.

la carnita tacosThe Pollo Frito ($5), paired with a mouth searing peanut mole was another crowd favourite. The tender chicken was enhanced by the peanut sauce--another Asian influence with hint of sambal or sriracha. All tacos are $5 each, which may seem a bit steep, but the portions more than justify the cost. Two tacos each were more than enough to satisfy our hunger.

la carnita restaurant torontoThe sweet and charred Mexican Corn (2 for $7), with a drizzle of crema and spicy kick of arbol/ancho powder, was a great complement to our meal. The knotted husk of the corn, which was fashioned into a handle, was also an inventive touch that saved us from a messy situation.

la carnita torontoSadly, we missed out on the churros with cajeta (caramel) as they were sold out by the time we finished our tacos (something that pop-up attendees will recall happening with some regularity), but the lime paleta crusted with salted graham crackers was a nice play on a classic key lime pie. Creamy yet tart, the popsicle balanced sweet, sour and salty wonderfully: a great palate cleanser to end our meal.

la carnita restaurantPhotos by Peter Henderson

Discussion

51 Comments

smelly gunt / June 14, 2012 at 03:50 pm
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LOOKS YUMMMMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
andy / June 14, 2012 at 04:09 pm
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i look forward to trying this place out
Angie Torres / June 14, 2012 at 04:53 pm
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Yum-mazing.
jd / June 14, 2012 at 06:03 pm
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While the food looks great. $5.00 tacos???

I just got back from LA and had Kogi (Haven't had it in almost 2 years) once again. 3 Tacos and a drink for 8 bucks... And they are pretty damn tasty.

In Toronto, I'd much rather hit up El Trompo and spend $10 for this.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimu/5127823750/lightbox/

I was at the UNO event. The Fish taco was tasty, but the wait and the $5.00 turned me off.

I would like to try the corn, so maybe I'll give it a go.
T-bone Pickens / June 14, 2012 at 06:04 pm
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Have hipster tacos jumped the shark yet? Mesa thinks so.
lol / June 14, 2012 at 07:23 pm
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5 dollars for a 1 dollar taco? God help us… is this an entry level mexican place before you take the step to grand electric?
Frank / June 14, 2012 at 07:58 pm
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Are you actually complaining about $5 tacos? I think that it's a steal for the quality of food that they are serving and the great atmosphere... Get a job!
jd / June 14, 2012 at 09:01 pm
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Quality? Please be serious. We're going to have a convo on ingredients and freshness? I'm not trying to say the tacos here suck, since I've already stated it was tasty. Having had tacos all over the world (Including fish tacos in Baja many times over the years) $5.00 for one is a bit ridiculous. But then, I'm sure you over pay on most things. No biggie. You do you.
Jon / June 14, 2012 at 10:59 pm
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It's worth noting for the people above complaining about the taco prices that the owner has stated on multiple occasions that their pricing is not final and might be adjusted. I might add that I was there for launch night and it was absolutely fantastic and every dollar we spent on tacos, apps and drinks were 100% worth it. Go drop in at least once.
dc / June 14, 2012 at 11:02 pm
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The dudes that run the Mexi-Can Market locations (both on College, one near Brock, the other near Spadina) are from Mexico and make kick-ass tacos. Three for around $6.50. I highly recommend if you're in the area and just want to grab some quality take-out. I was eating some the other day and this guys was like "hey, where'd you get those tacos? They look like REAL tacos." That's because they are.
Bubba / June 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm
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i gots me a j o b !

punk!
416 replying to a comment from dc / June 15, 2012 at 08:36 am
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dc
they make the tacos in the grocery store?
if so how would you compare to grand electric?
joe replying to a comment from jd / June 15, 2012 at 08:52 am
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no offense but one taco from here is the same size as 5 from el trompo. I do love el trompo, just saying...
Deus / June 15, 2012 at 10:06 am
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I've had El Trompo's tacos, and I've had La Carnita's. El Trompo's tacos are far less inventive; they're bland and use worse quality ingredients than La Carnita. La Carnita's portion sizes are also much, much bigger. I ate two tacos on opening night and I was STUFFED.

The food, mood and ambiance at La Carnita definitely make it amazing. I too love cheap food, but I would suggest that all the naysayers go in to La Carnita and order two tacos - I think that you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Deus / June 15, 2012 at 10:07 am
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P.S. The In Cod We Trust and the Carne Asada tacos were the biggest hits at my table.
peer / June 15, 2012 at 11:37 am
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BUT WAIT!, why do we need a second rate Grand Electric, we already have GRAND ELECTRIC, the dudes who opened this place are trying really hard to ride a food trend wave, and it's so transparent. There is nothing genuine about this place at all. Having lived in mexico, i must say i enjoy being able to go out for nice tacos every once and a while, but aren't we romanticizing the food culture of a completely poverty stricken, and seriously messed up place right now. Spend your money to go down and support a small taqueria with your business. thats authenticity.
mada / June 15, 2012 at 11:41 am
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@jd....ud rather have el trompo? are u retarded? that place is bonafide dog shit in a tortilla....you my friend, are an idiot.
fatty replying to a comment from peer / June 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm
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Just don't talk.
peer replying to a comment from fatty / June 15, 2012 at 01:48 pm
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wow, eloquent response, idiot
evan replying to a comment from peer / June 15, 2012 at 02:37 pm
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La Carnita pop ups precede Grand Electric by quite a bit. I'd imagine the influence flowed the other way.
visualhornet / June 15, 2012 at 03:09 pm
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Copy cats of Grand Electric. From the Decor to Music. Might have been serving tacos first. But everything else is a copy
malka / June 16, 2012 at 01:10 pm
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I was at one of their first pop ups. They were playing the same music and the accompanying decor seemed to be in line with what they have now.
Fatman / June 16, 2012 at 11:18 pm
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I love food. From prepping to cooking to eating. It might be high priced for some and a steal for others, nevertheless these are tasty tacos. For a while, good quality tacos were something of a rarity except for a few places in the city.
Eat & enjoy!
Dee / June 17, 2012 at 12:51 am
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Looks great. Gotta try this place
Sandman / June 17, 2012 at 10:44 am
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Took Toronto +4 years to get on the taco train, it's about time.
JDill / June 18, 2012 at 12:17 am
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That first picture looks awesome. Awesome food!!! I'd eat that skank!
4 replying to a comment from visualhornet / June 19, 2012 at 11:09 am
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BlindHornet. They look nothing alike, quite opposite actually.

They serve similar fare, and la carnita popped up FIRST on King street in One Method

GE jumped on the wagon first and did it very very well. A ton of others are doing it poorly.

- And lets not forget La Carnita is owned by the same couple who invented TUM, which is paving the way for innovative street foods, trucks, etc.

Before anyone makes a comment, they really need to walk through the doors of these places and experience what they're commenting about. Some of you sound like complete uneducated idiots.

tc replying to a comment from visualhornet / June 21, 2012 at 01:16 am
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It is NOT a competition. It is about yummy food and there are now two great places doing a twist on Mexican themed food - NOT trying to be authentic. Stop comparing. Waste of time! GE & LC are tasty..the end!!!
mada replying to a comment from peer / June 21, 2012 at 11:24 am
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you lived in mexico?? wow big deal pal!!!! you must know everything, let me guess u drove around in a land cruiser with a surfboard? what do u think ppl do when they open restaurants, they follow trends u idiot. "romanticizing the food culture of a poverty stricken nation...." that is easily one of the stupidest things ive heard.
BIG STAR / June 21, 2012 at 12:39 pm
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Grande Electric is based on a taco place in Chicago, Big Star, where Colin Tooke of GE did a stage. Between Big Star and GE, the former is the clear winner (in my humble opinion) based on ambience, quality of ingredients, execution, service and creativity when it comes to cocktails. However, if we're comparing the two Toronto spots, La Carnita's food is superior to GE's, but I can't speak to the ambience, service or drinks at LC.
maira / June 25, 2012 at 08:08 pm
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I'm mexican, and I think they should be more taquerias in toronto.
I don't see anything wrong with that. So let's enjoy this new taco trend.
Matzoh Ball / June 27, 2012 at 03:42 pm
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VERY LOUD HORRIBLE MUSIC. Everything fried and the grease hangs around the mouth long after. Fairly tasty tho. Nice decor.
Snaggles / June 30, 2012 at 10:58 am
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Hipster tacos are way easy to make at home. And better!
Snaggles replying to a comment from mada / June 30, 2012 at 11:00 am
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But I get the feeling you don't hear a lot of things
Marie-Ann / July 17, 2012 at 03:56 am
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Wow I really Wish I had tasted one of the great portion tacos and flavorful ones, because when I went la carnita was expensive and disappointing, no way I could get full with les than 3 of their tacos, portions where tiny and tasteless. Good good can be expensive but this is not good food and not worth ur 5 dollars mine as well throw ur money away
fiona / August 8, 2012 at 09:59 am
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its really gud
fiona / August 8, 2012 at 10:00 am
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good good i like
Monkay / August 12, 2012 at 09:58 am
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I have had some excellent tacos at taco bell AND they came with cheesey fries and a drink for 5 bucks! Yes the atmosphere is not as nice, but my date really enjoyed it and you don't need reservations like grand electric. Locations all over the GTA.
Phillip Novak / August 28, 2012 at 11:10 am
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The tacos are good but not enough = overpriced.

The music is good but too loud = no conversation, no staying longer than necessary.

Best part = the churros, yeah they're good.

Oh and the "limited edition" print of 5000 was the extra laugh.
Overall vibe = nothing genuine about it, wank-fest.
priscilla / October 15, 2012 at 09:09 pm
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La Carnita was a place that I recommended to all of my friends. Since the summer it had been serving, finally!, some good simple tacos in a comfortable easy going space.
We were there this weekend and unfortunately it, cynically, has dropped to the standards of its clientele. It's crowded all the time so why bother making the effort?
The margueritas were tasteless, the fish taco was overdone and overbattered. The chorizo was greasy. The corn was tough and unappealing. Very disappointing.
It's a real shame. La Esquina in NYC and its take out Corner has been in business for 7 years and still puts out a great taco and an excellent marguerita. There are all kinds of people there, lots who don't care but I feel that they get that there are enough that do and that its important to keep things on the up and up.
So sadly I would say the promise of a great taco joint in TO is still unfulfilled.
Please someone pick up the slack.
Carlos Tabara / December 2, 2012 at 11:46 am
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After wearing for a very long time my food was served cold, when I ask to have it again, the server told me that I will need to wait 45 min. An acceptable, by the end the tacos were nothing spectacular, but over price, next time I will go to Taco Bell, As a Mexican and I'm embarrassed of this "Mexican Place"
Maira L / December 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm
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Food is ok, but way overpriced, The music is too loud, and everybody there think they are better than everyone else.
Joe / January 17, 2013 at 01:52 pm
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OVER-RATED
Nicolas / January 17, 2013 at 11:02 pm
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passion for food is here. fresh, cultured food that has flavours and is worth every dollar. Yes everything in the USA is cheaper. Who gives a shit about decor really...I its ok it is a must try for sure ! BTW its true everyone thinks there better then everyone else ha !
Chris / March 28, 2013 at 09:50 pm
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Great restaurant! Not sure why there are so many haters. I've been here 5 times and have had a blast every time. I've tried pretty much everything on the menu and really love the corn and "In Cod we Trust" tacos. The beer and the cocktails are right on the money as well. The Margarita warmed me up perfectly for the walk home....highly recommended.

In regards to some of the comments about decor and environment....I mean these guys have created a great atmosphere a fun night out. A tremendous amount of creativity has gone into this restaurant and I'm surprised that anyone could have a problem with it! La Carnita are not claiming to be an 'authentic Mexican restaurant' by the way. It's a Mexican theme with an urban twist. Spot on.

This ridiculous argument about Grand Electric vs La Carnita...give it a break. I was at GE last week and it's all down to preference. Personally, La Carnita does it for me. Toronto is big enough for two great taco restaurants isn't it?

$5 for a gourmet taco is too much?! How much should it be?

Well done Andrew and crew for getting it right. Cheers!
chelsea hair salon / March 30, 2013 at 09:24 pm
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AIG TRAVEL GUARD INSURANCE / March 30, 2013 at 10:07 pm
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There's certainly a lot to find out about this issue. I like all the points you have made.
lol replying to a comment from jd / June 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm
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El Trompo..my ass..this place sucks...the food is below average..i don't know what white people like it so much.. is it because of their bland taste buds ?
SALES / October 29, 2013 at 11:43 am
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I am french and I had diner at La Carnita. It was my first time Tacos. I love it. I didn't think it was expensive.
Jug City / November 4, 2013 at 09:57 pm
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i really enjoyed the tacos here. it's difficult for me to say because our service was so bad. it's been a long time since i've had a server so rude.

first - what kind of pretentious establishment sticks to a rule of "no modifications because it ruins the chef's vision". get the fuck over yourself, you run a fucking mexican restaurant. is the chef's vision for someone to hate his taco because they dont like cilantro? maybe the stick up their ass is more comfortable than more money in their pockets.

even worse, that the server doesnt have the common sense to say "dont worry, its just a sprig of cilantro, you can take it off". seems like a pretty simple solution to ensure someone has a good experience in your restaurant. dont worry, she'll just have a piece of corn for dinner.

congratulations on your success. as ive said, i enjoyed the tacos. though, its clear that with business doing quite well, the quality of service blatantly showed zero fucks given to ensure a patron's experience was a positive one. keep lining your pockets and shitting on the every man. i'll gladly continue to walk on by.

Worst service / March 15, 2014 at 01:03 pm
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The food was great, but the service was the worst. I am not going to bother going through each thing that was terribly wrong with their service because that would take too long. Stuck-up, unaccommodating, and rude. For a place with tacky graffiti decor, they certainly think they are above their customers. Lame.

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