With friendly ser­vice, af­ford­able food, and a sweet space, Roku seems to be des­tined for great­ness

Ottawa Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Ta­que­ria La Bonita 1079 Welling­ton St. W., 613-798-9292 I used to look down my nose at Tex-Mex. In the late 1980s, I cooked at a Mex­i­can restau­rant that served the typ­i­cal — en­chi­ladas and such, your choice of fill­ing. Grow­ing tired of the menu, I re­searched and found recipes for thick hand­made tor­tillas of masa ha­rina (corn dough). But back then, Ot­tawa was not ready for any mar­avil­losas ideas.

Even­tu­ally, though, North Amer­ica’s taste buds would wake up, and that change is un­der­way in Ot­tawa — the proof is in the many Tex-Mex res­tau­rants through­out the city, in par­tic­u­lar the open­ing of a se­cond lo­ca­tion of Ta­que­ria La Bonita.

The own­ers of four-year-old Ta­que­ria La Bonita off Ogilvie Road opened a new lo­ca­tion early this year, ac­quir­ing a Hin­ton­burg space va­cated by La Cocina Loca.

Look­ing to Oax­aca and Mi­choacán for its ideas, this ta­que­ria isn’t strictly Tex-Mex (or even Cal-Mex), but any restau­rant serv­ing na­chos isn’t purely Mex­i­can either. Don’t ex­pect the shar­ing plates found at the orig­i­nal La Bonita: the Hin­ton­burg menu is pared down, of­fer­ing many smalls. Spicy? Be­nign is the word, al­though home­made sal­sas ap­pear on the side. Start with deep-flavoured sopa Azteca, a tomato tor­tilla soup with pasilla chilies.

Do try the mole. There are myr­iad vari­a­tions: green, yel­low, and red, for in­stance. But it’s the well-known mole poblano with choco­late that owner Araceli Ortega and her team make, us­ing chicken. The sweet flavours work well in que­sadil­las.

Or try a sope, which is ac­tu­ally not a soup — it’s that masa ha­rina, shaped into a saucer and fried. It is then lined with a base layer of re­fried black beans, which can be topped with any fill­ing: pi­cadillo (ground beef with gua­jillo chilies) has rich char­ac­ter, es­pe­cially good with feta and sour cream.

The com­plex co­chinita pi­bil, pork Yu­catán-style with cit­rus juices and cin­na­mon, works in a soft­shell taco. Un­for­tu­nately, bar­be­cued beef tastes bland, all the juices wrung out, while the cigar­shaped tacos do­ra­dos aren’t deep-fried prop­erly (they’re hard, not crispy). How­ever, La Corona — a cock­tail with tequila, mango juice, and gin­ger ale — is cer­tainly a treat. For dessert, try the postre de limón, or lime cream — it’s sub­lime.

Snacks and mains $5.75–$23. Open daily for lunch and din­ner. Roku Bar + Bites 610 Som­er­set St. W., 613-656-1638 You won’t find dumplings at the fast-food chain with the golden arches, but you will find them at Roku Bar + Bites, whose Big Mak gy­oza is de­scribed as “a Big Mac … in a dumpling.”

Roku, which opened at the end of 2017, is a welcome ad­di­tion to the ca­sual-din­ing scene. Brothers-in-law Robert Sayaphet and Peter Mak (who lent his name to the afore­men­tioned dumpling) had done pop-up events prior to open­ing their spot in Chi­na­town and have now ex­panded their of­fer­ings be­yond dumplings. With a fo­cus on their fam­i­lies’ Cam­bo­dian and Lao­tian her­itage, Roku serves Asian-in­spired food that in­cor­po­rates flavours from all over the world.

Ev­ery­thing is snackable and af­ford­able: there’s noth­ing on the food menu over $15. In ad­di­tion to the afore­men­tioned Big Mak gy­oza, there are pork, seafood, and veg­gie dumpling op­tions. A big bas­ket of kim­chi fries with wasabi mayo was de­li­ciously ad­dic­tive: the fries are sea­soned and topped with kim­chi, Ja­panese bar­be­cue sauce, wasabi may­on­naise, and sesame seeds. The Roku Noo­dle Bowl was a bright and fresh op­tion with le­mon­grass beef, pork meat­balls, and a deep-fried dumpling.

The larb tofu is a veg­e­tar­ian take on a clas­sic Lao­tian dish. It’s served with fresh vegeta­bles, herbs, spices, and roasted ground rice, which makes for an in­ter­est­ing mix­ture of tex­tures. There are weekly spe­cials, but the fish in the crispy bao was un­der­whelm­ing as it lacked proper sea­son­ing.

There’s a small but de­cent list of lo­cal craft beers and a longer list of cre­ative cock­tails. The space of­fers a ca­sual but invit­ing vibe, and the beau­ti­ful mu­ral is worth ad­mir­ing in the light of day — which is doable on Sun­days, when Roku serves brunch.

The small brunch menu fea­tures a savoury steamed-dumpling bowl, as well as a sim­ple com­bi­na­tion of grilled cheese with co­conut cream tomato soup. For sweeter op­tions, there’s Falung toast (per­haps a nod to the Thai slang falung, mean­ing “for­eigner”), which is ba­si­cally French toast stuffed with peanut but­ter and ba­nana. Or try the co­conut pan­dan pan­cakes — the pan­dan leaves lend a shock­ing green colour, the co­conut a sub­tle flavour. All of it goes nicely with a strong Viet cof­fee.

It doesn’t seem as if many folks know about Roku’s brunch yet, so there won’t be a long line. With friendly ser­vice, af­ford­able food, and a sweet space, Roku seems to be des­tined for great­ness. Sides $5–$8, small plates $10–$15. Open Wed­nes­day to Satur­day for din­ner and Sun­day for brunch.

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