El Pocho is kind of a dirty word south of the border, but here in Toronto, it's the name of an antojitos bar. Owner Cesar Ramirez has reappropriated the insult with pride as he serves up a menu featuring snack foods that hail from Mexico via California.
The tongue-in-cheek eatery replaces Scoop & Bean . Ramirez first opened the ice cream shop and cafe back in 2009 but reimagined the concept after recently acquiring a liquor license.
The inside has been redone with dark colours and string lights. It's decorated with cacti and candles and as charming as it is, no one is sitting inside. The glorious patio out front might just be the restaurant's best feature.
The place still serves espresso, but now margaritas ($12), rum daiquiris ($8.50) and dirty palomas ($10), made with tequila and Squirt soda, grace the menu too. Bottles of Corona and Negra Modela are among the collection of beers in store, though the selection on draft and in tall cans sticks to local brands like Muskoka and Brickworks' Batch Cider.
In the kitchen, Tim Rickard (ex Patria) serves up thirst-inducing (read: salty) snack foods like tortillas and dips ($6), Mexican street corn ($6) and patatas fritas ($5).
Fried avocado ($6) comes encrusted with cornmeal and dressed up with a jalapeno and pineapple marmalade. These two-bite batons are aggressively seasoned, but are crispy on the outside with creamy centres.
El Pocho fries ($13) are a take on carne asada fries loaded with mild salsa, creamy avocado and cotija cheese. Skirt steak beefs it up in the evenings, but a vegetarian version of this dish is available at brunch, when it comes topped with a sunny-side-up egg.
Tacos ($10-$13) loaded with your choice of chicken, steak or vegetables are available too. I try the fork-torn chicken escabeche on a corn tortilla dressed with avocado sauce and tangy pickled cabbage. Each order comes with three tacos, which is nice for sharing though I would have appreciated the chance to mix-and-match.
While it's not advertised, the eatery is entirely gluten-free (beer is the sole exception). Rickard and his wife are both gluten-averse and the Mexican menu naturally avoid any objectionable ingredients.
Photos by Hector Vasquez.