Tacos El Asador
Tacos El Asador is pretty much a Latin American institution in Koreatown. After two decades at the northeast corner of Bloor and Clinton, it has made a move – all the way across the street on Bloor – to a bigger space that’s almost double the size of the previous (tiny) spot.
While more spacious, the interior has a similar down-to-earth, casual feel as its predecessor, with brightly painted walls, amusing knick-knacky decor, picnic tables and benches for seating and TV screens airing Latin American programs.
This family-run resto has Salvadoran roots, as the Gonzalez family who owns the place originally came from San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. It’s comforting to know I can always count on seeing the same familiar faces working here; 99 times out of a 100, a man known only as “Smokey” will be there to greet me and take my order.
A mix of Salvadoran and Mexican favourites are on the menu here, and they continue to be served on colourful plastic plates and baskets lined with parchment paper, priced to please. (It’s still cash only, with an ATM located inside the restaurant.)
I’m told everything is made from scratch, including the corn tortillas, which have an addictive hint of sweetness to them, and the scorchingly spicy hot sauce found in bowls on each table.
We start with some nachos ($8), a colourful combo of melty cheese, refried beans, cotija cheese, sour cream, onion, tomato and avocado over house-made tortilla chips. They definitely whet the appetite for more.
Crispy beef tacos ($3.95 each) feature strips of soft, tender beef topped with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and cilantro. I rarely order beef or crispy tacos here, but they're surprisingly tasty and something I'll be adding into the rotation in the future.
Soft birria and cochinita tacos ($3.75 each) are my usual orders, and they're just as satisfying as they were when they came from across the street. The birria (Mexican stewed goat) is tender with a distinctive goat flavour, complemented simply by some raw onions and cilantro.
Pink pickled onions accompanying the super juicy cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) are a tart highlight, and a must-order for me each time I visit.
Salvadoran enchiladas ($3.95 each) are the equivalent of Mexican tostadas, and a staple for me at this joint.
They're a cruncy, delicious mess of your choice of meat (pictured is the pulled chicken) and refried beans, lettuce, cheese and a tomato slice. It's imperative to eat it quickly before the crisp base gets soggy.
Asador means “grill” or “barbecue” in Spanish, and it's possible to order plates of grilled steak ($19.50) and chicken ($13.50) here. Also popular are the burritos ($4.85-$7.65), quesadillas ($3.95) and pupusas ($3.40), a Salvadoran specialty.
The menu has pretty much carried over from the previous location, although with the added space, new items are being introduced, like Mexican tortilla soup and Mexican chicken enchiladas.
Drinks-wise, a rainbow of Jarritos ($3 each) are available, as are Mexican beers (Corona, Sol, Tecate, Dos Equis, etc.)
One guy eating alone at a table nearby tells us he’s been eating here (well, at the previous location) since he was 9. "Now I’m 29,” he says, and he still can't stay away. “It’s definitely been a journey."