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Restaurants

Playa Cabana Cantina

Posted by Erin Scholz / Reviewed on February 5, 2013 / review policy

Playa Cabana CantinaPlaya Cabana Cantina, the younger, cooler cousin of the the original location opened recently in the Junction and in some sense is a far cry from its family member. While the food remains basically the same, the atmosphere caters to a younger (and yes "artier") crowd with a stronger focus on the bar area and cocktails.

Playa Cabana CantinaAlthough the night began with a minor hiccup — they had no record of our reservation made through their online service and we thus had to wait for a table — the food, cocktails and service more than made up for it.

Playa Cabana CantinaI asked the friendly server for a cocktail recommendation and she was quick to offer up three — I opted for the "Playa Paloma" ($9) — a play on a margarita with grapefruit juice rather than lime. The tequila was excellent and the entire concoction was delicious. My only complaint might be that the grapefruit wedge seemed to have been frozen and thawed. Weird.

Playa Cabana CantinaWe started with the typical guacamole and tortilla chips ($8). The dip was super fresh and the heat wasn't overpowering (even though we went with the "spicy"! Yay for gringos!). Similarly, the chips were fresh and perfectly crunchy, but lacking in the salt department.

The fish tacos (3 for $13) were the standout for me (well, along with the cocktail). The tortillas were as fresh as you can get (we could see a woman pressing and grilling them from where we sat) and the filling was perfectly balanced. Lightly battered (you can opt for grilled...but...why?) halibut comes topped with refreshing and crunchy iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, corn and a smattering of tomato and avocado.

playa cabana cantinaThe chicken tacos (3 for $14) were almost as good, though totally different. These tortillas were crispy and the tinga sauce made with chipotle peppers was very spicy. The chicken was slow braised and melted in your mouth. The small amount of guacamole on the side was appreciated for its cooling nature as well as the fresh crema.

Playa Cabana CantinaThe churros were perhaps the only true disappointment of the meal. Though house made (like everything else) the two we were served were quite hard and didn't have the fluffy interior I was expecting. They came swimming in whipped cream and caramel sauce while I was expecting a more traditional presentation simply dusted with sugar. I detected goat's milk in the caramel sauce — and our server later confirmed that it did contain some. This might be a plus for some, but goat's milk happens to be just about the only food I don't like.

They went above and beyond what I expected and comped the dessert after I mentioned my diva-ish complaint. I was a little embarrassed, but the gesture was appreciated to be sure.

Playa Cabana CantinaOverall this is a neat little neighbourhood spot. A great place to just grab a drink too — their tequila selection is extensive and sure to please any agave connoisseurs, while the extensive cocktail list offers tequila-based takes on classics like the Negroni and Old Fashioned (the latter of which is aptly called the "New Fashion").

playa cabana cantinaThe atmosphere is fun and upbeat — the servers and cooks in the kitchen could often be seen dancing around to the loud Spanish electronic music, which makes for a totally casual and comfortable environment.

Discussion

27 Comments

GL / February 5, 2013 at 10:14 am
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Edit needed: "and our server later confirmed that the did contain some"

the 'the' should be an 'it'
Brad replying to a comment from GL / February 5, 2013 at 10:48 am
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Thanks for coming out GL. You're doing Gods work.
raymes / February 5, 2013 at 11:22 am
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Looking forward to trying this place out.
Dani / February 5, 2013 at 11:27 am
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Amazing food, beautiful decor, really good drinks, and super cute guy working the bar, always a plus.
bobby / February 5, 2013 at 11:40 am
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Place was good, pretty much like grand electric but with a way bigger budget for neon, old signs and decor which must have cost a FORTUNE. It's like a Junction taco disneyland for adults. It's also not hipster at all. Older crowd, All over 30. I guess it's the nature of the area. The food is good but I prefer Seven Lives.
cute guy behind the bar replying to a comment from Dani / February 5, 2013 at 12:20 pm
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thanks Dani.....nice shoes.....
Mauricé replying to a comment from Brad / February 5, 2013 at 12:32 pm
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That should be 'God's work'
Amrit Gill / February 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm
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I'm so glad that we have our own Playa Cabana in the Junction! I've tried the original Playa Cabana and the food is outstanding and the Margaritas even more so. Can't wait to go try this one out : )
trickydisco / February 5, 2013 at 12:54 pm
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My new go-to in the neighborhood...great vibe, excellent food and tasty bevvies : )
Johnny / February 5, 2013 at 01:16 pm
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First experience wasn't great, but I'm willing to give it a second chance. Made an online reservation for 9:30pm, the second seating of the night. When we showed up we still had to wait 25 minutes for our table. Once seated the waiter was friendly, but when your food shows up 5 minutes before your drinks, (not once, but twice) something is a little off. The flautas and guacamole were fantastic, but the lobster tacos, which sounded SO good, were salted to the point of being inedible. Like I said, new place, working out the kinks, so I'm going to give it another go. Here's hoping I'm not disappointed.
Watch out! / February 5, 2013 at 04:50 pm
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Am I wrong in thinking that those hanging lights in the second photo look dangerously close to the patrons' heads? Also, if the stools opposite the bar were occupied, I can't imagine there'd be much room left to move around in... Place looks uncomfortably tiny.
Brian / February 5, 2013 at 04:54 pm
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My friend Samantha from Equilibrium took a bunch of us here, we had a great time, BUT we did have to wait a long time for drink.
PDG / February 5, 2013 at 05:46 pm
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An excellent addition to the neighbourhood. I've been four times, I think. The staff's wonderful and welcoming, and the decor's rustic, if not a bit OTT. I do agree about the service, especially the drinks. They're delicious concoctions, certainly, but the barkeeps need to lift their game. This isn't a barchef competition. It's a restaurant. Hurry up. I took out of town guests there late December, and two of our starters arrived before the drinks did. Two beers and a mocktail. I spent my student years in service, and my advice to the owners is to get the service fixed, particularly the pokey bar service. One other night, around 7, they realised the beer keg was empty. About half an hour later they got around to changing it, then claimed that the beer needed to settle. Not good enough. Also, their reservation system needs fixing. They should use Open Table. I pointed out to them that their system only accepts reservations for 5:30 (who goes out that early?) and 9:30. They said that wasn't the case. A simple check of their web system from a remote computer would show them that this is true. I'm confident they'll make a go of it, despite opening glitches.
KarFar / February 5, 2013 at 09:19 pm
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Just because you play Spanish music and wrap stuff in a tortilla does not make it Mexican food. And who the hell thought putting cholula in a michelada was a good idea? I do appreciate that they serve tecate and Mexican coke. Way better than la revolucion. That being said, I'm not in a hurry to go back. My search for good Mexican food still continues.
Zoe / February 6, 2013 at 10:08 am
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Cajeta is in fact traditionally made with goat's milk, as keenly detected by the reviewer. It's a Mexican specialty. A detail that might score Cantina a point to some diners whose bourgeoise education attunes their palate.
Patrick / February 24, 2013 at 06:57 pm
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Have attended the restaurant twice so far, once on a Tuesday evening (7ish) and once on a Saturday afternoon (2:30ish). Two comments: (1) food is awesome. Both times I've gone, with different groups, and nobody has been disappointed. (2) Service is absolutley ass. Serving the table behind us, and in front of us, when they arrived *after* us? The wait staff kept telling us that the "other guy" was serving us. I'm willing to give these guys a third chance; lets hope they get their act together -- they should be more worried about waiting tables than adding to their hipster scorecard.
Catherine Taylor / March 24, 2013 at 09:31 pm
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A take-out order took more than one hour after being told it would be 20 minutes. An extra order of rice was 4 tablespoons and an extra order of beans was 2 tablespoons. Please! These items are so cheap and you are using them as a garnish and charging so much extra. It makes the restaurant look so cheap. Also ordered an extra taco and for two people we were still hungry. Come on... cheap ingredients combined with an expensive rent is so unCOOL! Won't be back or ordering for take-out.
Linda / April 6, 2013 at 07:49 pm
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The best shrimp I've ever tasted....served in a small bucket...seasoned and cooked to perfection. The grapefruit margarita was amazing. Also the fish (tilapia) tacos were wonderfully seasoned and very filling. Best Mexican food I've had in a long time. I will defintely go back and recommend it to all my friends. Looking forward to going to the new location with two patios at Avenue Road and Dupont.
david / April 17, 2013 at 12:33 pm
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the corn were very underwhelming, the ceveche was bad at best (no fish actually in it) the tacos were hands down the worst excuse for food I have ever had. A disgrace to Mexican food.
Jill / May 1, 2013 at 02:33 pm
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Great vibe, very friendly and tentative service- most delicious drinks I have ever had. Food is not the absolute best, but it's still pretty good. Loved everything about the short rib tacos except that you were swimming in oil and grease after eating them. I've been a few times now and the food is always good but seems to be missing just one small thing that could make it great.
Emile.B / June 6, 2013 at 09:26 am
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Finally a place that has good food, good prices and nice decor. I was very hesitant to try this place at first as I have tried most of the hot spots in the junction and was very disappointed in all fronts. Mostly are really over priced with an attitude and below average food quality. This one is well worth a try, excellent cocktails, great food and very nice ambiance. Service is also great.
The self spoken chef / July 29, 2013 at 10:12 am
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I went in the other night at 7:15pm to celebrate my birthday. I brought 7 people with me some were friends and other family. Including my great- grandmother of 101 years old to celebrate with us. she's in a wheelchair to move around. The moment the waiter saw her he quickly said "this place isn't wheel chair accessible." he didn't bother waiting for us to fully get inside the doors. I spoke with him and said the wheelchair is only used to move her around, if I have to go and take the wheelchair back to the car, I would. Instead he told us that the place was booked, when there was a few small tables available, when I asked when I could get a seat he had the nerve to say the next available table would be at 9:30pm, on a sunday! obviously this place has no class what-so-ever, I'm sorry to say this but NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE FOOD MIGHT BE THE SERVICE NEEDS TO MATCH IT! I work in the industry and im proud to say we treat our customers with great respect no matter what age, sex, gender, or religion, if you want to win customers I suggest you start by taking in customers.
TL / October 17, 2013 at 09:50 pm
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Great service, but terrible food. It's disappointing, because it used to be our favourite place. I do not recommend nor would go back.
SW / April 29, 2014 at 10:10 pm
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I have been to Playa Cabana Cantina numerous times and the food is quite good (except for the tougher than tough octopus taco) - and on the last visit the service was absolutely inexcusable. I cannot tell you how many different ways it was disappointing. Not only was the service TERRIBLE, but there were no apologies offered when mistakes were brought up numerous times. They only have 3 seating times and warn you that if you are late, they will give up your table... we showed up on time and were left to wait (with an elderly guest) 20 minutes for the table we reserved. We had one person receive part of their meal 20 mins before the rest of the party received their food. We asked for more chips roughly 6-7 times (no joke), and told we were to get some more... they came after the 7th inquiry. We had to wait 40+ minutes for a taco that was clearly forgotten by our server. We waited over 20 minutes for the cheque after we asked for it. We even phoned to talk to a manager the next day, and they promised to call us back - never heard from them again. Absolutely the worst service I have had at ANY restaurant - which is unfortunate, because I enjoy their short rib tacos.
toronto dude / June 4, 2014 at 07:39 am
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I was there a few days ago sitting outside on their tiny little patio on a beautiful spring night. The homemade chips were addictive although the salsa was a bit watery and bland. However the Tacos Al Pastor was absolutely astonishing....3 beautifully fresh tacos and packed with flavour.....highly recommended as are the Tacos De Langosta. I know I'll be back for sure.
GRBY / June 5, 2014 at 01:16 pm
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I've eaten at Playa Cabana Cantina 3 times. They make the best burrito I've ever had! Their lobster burrito is the stuff of legends, however their fish taco's were boring and uninspired.

I still prefer Grand Electric, but I do think Playa Cabana is good for a #2 spot in respect to best Mexican in Toronto.

The irony is when you actually go to Mexico the tacos are all very simple and more bland. The Canadian approach is more gourmet.
Nadine / October 12, 2014 at 03:08 pm
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I'm coming to check it out ......I hope the food is tasty!

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