La Carnita (Queen East)
La Carnita is now open on the east side occupying the Riverside address that was formerly home to Rasputin. The new 80-seat eatery and bar, designed by owner Andrew Richmond in collaboration with Ian Rydberg of Solid Build & Design , retains the cool vibe of its predecessor.
The deep, narrow space prominently features black-and-white photocopy colleges punctuated by pink neon lights and hand painted graphics from @rcadewizard .
The clientele on opening weekend is mostly young and hip, but is sprinkled with young families (something you don't see every day at the College location ). While the restaurant is equipped with booster seats, It hasn't toned down its urban attitude, nor has it turned down the expletive-laced hip hop.
The menu from executive chef Jon Hamilton and chef de cuisine Zach Smith features faves from the original location, along with rotating features that are exclusive here.
Signature tacos like the Pollo Frito ($4.75) and Carnita confit pork ($4.75) are still present, but there's new contenders too - daily specials that are so good they might merit repeat visits throughout the week. We asked to see what's new, and were treated to the rare pleasure of eating all the weekend specials at once.
Big Sur tacos ($5.75), for instance are on special every Friday, and these might just trump their ever-popular staple In Cod We Trust ($4.75). Crispy, corn-battered striped bass tacos come loaded to maximum capacity with shredded jicama, watermelon radish, fresh cilantro, mayo, and blackened chili hot sauce.
On Saturdays, you'll find a crispy oxtail taco ($5.75) which sees pulled tail meat braised with allspice, cinnamon and cloves, moulded into thick batons, then breaded and fried. It's got a golden crackling interior while inside is delectable moist and tender. A flavour-packed peanut lime adobo hot sauce and Mexican crema add creamy components, while green apple and pickled tomatillo salsa offer a tart, crunchy contrast.
The Sunday exclusive, a crispy chicken torta ($5.75), is a messy fried chicken sandwich loaded onto a guacamole-slathered sesame milk bun and finished with honey habanero sauce, salsa fresca, and crumbled queso anejo cheese.
Other non-taco menu entries available every day include sweet Mexican corn ($8.50), Mexican meatballs ($9), and veggie-friendly rice and corn frituras ($9). They're kind of like Latin-flavoured arancini, set over Mexican crema and a salsa picante mellowed out with almonds.
The bar offers Agua Fresca ($4), a blend of cucumber mint and lime as an alternative to alcohol, but should you need something strong, The Staycation ($12) might just do the trick. It's a tropical blend of Appleton, Aperol, and liqueur de banana with pineapple and lemon juice. Margaritas mixed with Tromba tequila and fresh lime juice are on draught by the glass ($12) or the pitcher ($55).
The new La Carnita sticks to its guns, modestly accommodating the differing neighbourhood demographics without watering anything down. Don't expect brunch anytime soon.
Photos by Jesse Milns