Plaza Latina is Toronto's home to cheap Latin American eats
Plaza Latina is a little mall whose bummy exterior and atrocious parking lot belies the phenomenal food court that awaits within.
Pulling up to the main entrance, it's hard to believe that this plaza on Milvan Drive—referred to as "El Mercado" by locals—is home to some of the city's best and most authentic Latin American eats, all under one roof.
With an American motel vibe, the face of this building consists mostly of empty units on the second floor, save for one with a 4:20 signage. Judging by the presence of the two men alertly patrolling the balcony, it's easy to assume that 4:20 sells exactly what you think it does.
While there's a back entrance that leads you right to the food court, a short walk through the Centre's main hallway sets the mood.
From the happening barbershop to the gold and silver pawnshop, the businesses here operate almost exclusively in Spanish. Locals of the Jane and Finch area are the main patrons of Plaza Latina, where people greet each other by name as they pass one another in the hallway.
Selling salsa CDs and telenovela DVDs, Mac Video has somehow managed to stay afloat over the years, while the market Super Guatemala also continues to thrive next door by selling products like candles, spices and snacks straight from Latin America.
As you near the food court, you'll see a couple of video game machines that have clearly seen their fair share of KOs over the years, yet are surprisingly still in full working order — much like everything else in Plaza Latina.
Here is where you'll find the first signs of a culinary adventure about to begin: La Cubanita, a Cuban stall where you'll find paella and garlic fried steaks served with rice and beans, platanos and salad.
Soon after, the hallway ends and opens up into the spacious food court. Awash in natural light, the room has plenty of seating and will likely be blasting some really great Spanish oldies (maybe some José José).
Occupying the right corner of the market is where you'll find five stalls representing cuisine from Colombia, Mexico, Peru, El Salvador and Ecuador.
The sixth store, a Chilean bakery called Autentica Spanish Food and Empanadas, is the main attraction at the far end of the food court. Operating apart from the other stalls, with prime real estate at the other end of the food court, it bustles with weekend customers vying for empanadas.
La Fuente Del Puro Sabor is the stall where you'll find fresh juices and the traditional Ecuadorian drink colada morada, a blend of black corn flour and berries.
Next to it is the Pupuseria El Buen Sabor, a stall that makes its traditional El Salvadoran corn tortillas from scratch.
La Costeñita Colombiana is where you'll find plates of fried fish and meals for $15 that include giant soups, sizeable portions of rice and salads plus your choice of meat, like the Colombian bistec de higado — a beef liver special.
Selling a huge menu of tacos, flautas and other traditional Mexican fare, Chilango Taco is a food court favourite.
It's not hard to see why, considering they have some of the best chips and guac I've ever tried. At just $8, it's completely worth the house-baked chips and portion of small — but incredibly flavourful — guacamole.
El Sabroson is the Peruvian restaurant serving up dishes like the popular Peruvian-Chinese beef dish lomo saltado, a salty Chifa favourite served on rice.
The last stall, Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano, is tucked in the corner with easy access to the food court exit. They serve full meals of fried fish with rice and slices of plantain and empanadas full of cheese.
Their drink selection includes the popular sodas Inca Kola and Manzana, the Ecuadorian apple soda. Both are great options to go with whichever delicious Latin American meal you choose. If you have some understanding of Spanish, Plaza Latina is a great place to practice. However, English speakers are more than welcome here and displaying openness to food is totally embraced here. Just make sure to carry cash: it's either that or debit only.
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