Valdez is the newly opened 90-seat eatery on King West taking over the address once home to Cheval nightclub. The restaurant from Steve Gonzalez (Top Chef Canada, Origin) is a celebration of Latin street culture, drawing on the vibrant colours and boisterous vibe of a street party.
Inside, loud music competes with the sizzle from the open kitchen and the sounds of cocktails shaking. The decor is intentionally distressed for a rougher urban aesthetic that lends to a casual and festive vibe. My party grabs a couple stools at a high top across from the bar though I can see at the back of the room a more relaxed dining room furnished with tables and colourful chairs.
Starting with a round of cocktails from Jorge Yarce, I sample the cilantro muddled Mojitos ($9) made with rum and topped off with a splash of lime Jarritos soda, as well as La Rosa ($13) a signature cocktail that mixes gin, Pama pomegranate and Campari.
At first taste, I find the cocktails rather sweet, though they gain my appreciation once some of the salty snacks arrive at the table. Served in a paper tray, the Croquetas ($6) seem akin to Italian arancini balls, but are a smaller, crunchier on the outside and served with dollop of chipotle aioli for dipping.
Served in a paper bag, the Fried Empanadas ($9) are bite sized cornmeal pockets filled with pork, potatoes and Latino five spice and a side of citrusy aji dip.
From the five ceviches listed, we sample a few in a flight, my favourite being the tomato, chili and cilantro spiced Cocktel de Camarón (served solo for $3/$13) though the ahi tuna with watermelon (Atun japones) is notable too.
Chuzos al plancha ($7), a grilled skewer of beef smothered with chimichurri comes with a mini arepa. The beef is done a little over for me but I like wiping up the pool of oil and herbs from the bottom of the plate with the warm corn flatbread.
If making a meal out of snacks isn't enough, there are selections like the Patty Melt ($15), Pupusa ($17) and Fajitas ($19) that are suitable for sharing (or not).
At only a week old, Valdez still plans to add a rooftop patio. The kitchen opens daily from 5pm until at least 10:30 (Sundays excluded) but tequilas, pisco and mescal are available right up until last call. Don't be surprised if you hear a friendly, "Ciao mami" as you stumble out.
Photos by Jesse Milns