Don’t pass on these tacos
Junction taqueria Al Pastor wants to redefine Mexico’s national taco
Al pastor If you know your tacos, you’re almost certainly familiar with the classic al pastor, the national taco of Mexico.
But if your Mexican food education has been limited to the GTA’s (otherwise reasonably comprehensive) Mexican food offerings, Al Pastor taqueria co-owners Enrique Gonzalez
and Alain Frederick Jacques say, you’ve probably never really had one.
“We said there’s something missing in Toronto – and that’s tacos al pastor,” says former Playa Cabana Cafeteria chef Jacques. “They do have it on menus, but they’re not tacos al pastor how they’re supposed to be.”
Specifically, that’s pork marinated for three days in pineapple and orange juice, chilis and red wine vinegar, then slow-roasted and shaved on a shawarma grill.
I’ve never been super-hot on tacos al pastor – the meat’s usually dry and lifeless by the time it lands on the taco. But this stuff is moist and caramelized, with pineapple and onion lending bursts of freshness and sweetness.
Little wonder they named the place after it.
The Junction takeout spot is an homage to the Mexico Jacques and Gonzalez both knew growing up, complete with a little shipping-crate “market” that serves as pantry, gift shop and wall decor all at once. Tajin seasoning, bottles of Tapatio hot sauce, Abuelita hot chocolate and even little luchador action figures are all for sale.
On the opposite wall, a handpainted menu features a handful of tried-and-true taqueria recipes (tacos are all $3.50). While the al pastor is undoubtedly the top seller, the tacos campechanos (arguably Mexico’s second-favourite) are stellar, with moist, shredded brisket and chorizo packing huge flavour.
Quesadillas and burritos do away with the usual Tex-Mex trappings. The former are oozing monsters (a deal at $6.50 each) packed with Oaxaca cheese on blue corn tortillas and stuffed with either chicken tinga or meaty, savoury huitlacoche, a Mexican delicacy. (They’re known in English as the poetic “Mexican truffle” or – thanks to the vegetable the fungus grows on – the very not-poetic “corn smut.”)
Al Pastor’s burritos ($10), meanwhile, recast alambre – a dish of meat, sautéed peppers and onions, and cheese – as the contents of a starch-free burrito. “It’s a more authentic version of the burrito for us,” Gonzalez explains. “The Americanized version has rice, beans – pretty much what Chipotle or Burrito Boyz or everybody does is the Americanized version.”
“We basically just make the alambre the way it is in the taqueria,” adds Jacques, and it’s delicious, resulting in a burrito packed with fried poblanos and more shaved pastor pork that manages to satisfy without the dreaded burrito bloat.
Gonzalez readily admits there’s nothing wrong with a good rice-and-bean burrito – or, since this is Toronto, a fish taco served with a death-defying dessert, a blaring hip-hop soundtrack and a shot of cheap whisky.
But more perspective and representation of traditional Mexican cooking is always appreciated – all the more when the results are this tasty. 2982 Dundas West, at Pacific, 647-748-2982, alpastor.ca
Al Pastor’s namesake taco features pork marinated for three days, then sliced from a shawarma spit.
Al Pastor’s burritos are all killer, no filler.
Quesadillas make use of Mexican huitlacoche mushrooms.