Uptown’s hot new 400-seat taqueria
Plus, a new express Italian restaurant in Richmond Hill, a celebrity chef eyes Toronto and more
“We’re not a Mexican restaurant,” says Otta Zapotocky, co-owner of Willowdale’s newly opened Estrella Taqueria. “We’re a bourbon, tequila and taco restaurant.”
Those familiar with Zapotocky’s other restaurant, L’Avenue — an upscale bistro on Bayview — may be surprised that the Czech Republic–born sommelier is opening an on-trend taqueria. But Estrella’s menu reveals hints of cross-pollination between Zapotocky’s two eateries.
The menu juxtaposes classic Mexican tacos, such as chicken tinga and al pastor, with Frenchinfluenced dishes, such as duck confit tacos and a deconstructed taco plate with grilled bavette steak.
L’Avenue and Estrella share more than an owner. Zapotocky brought L’Avenue’s chef, Jeremy Dyer, north of the 401 to create the Frenchinflected Mexican menu.
“Even if I opened an Indian restaurant, I’d still get him to be my chef,” Zapotocky says.
Zapotocky — who made his name managing Nota Bene and L’Unità — wasn’t actively seeking to open a second restaurant, but when long-time L’Avenue customer Chuck Markowitz approached him to open a taqueria, he was intrigued.
After leaving real estate law, Markowitz decided he wanted to pursue his passion for food. In order to reel Zapotocky in as a business partner, Markowitz brought the established restaurateur down to his favourite spot in Chicago: Big Star. The pair made multiple trips to the restaurant, trying everything on the menu and soaking in the atmosphere.
When the field trips came to an end, Zapotocky was sold: they’d open a taqueria inspired by the Wicker Park restaurant. (Thus the name Estrella, which is Spanish for “star.”)
The twosome took over Smokey Joe’s Cafe in late August, and by September, they had gutted the place. The split-level space seats nearly 300 inside, and the mezzanine opens onto a 3,000square-foot, 130-seat patio with a firepit, a full-service bar and a large screen for summer movie screenings.
Estrella Taqueria, 4899 Yonge St., 416-222-1500
CLASSIC ITALIAN FOOD ON-THE-GO
That’s Italian Ristorante, which opened in Woodbridge in 2008, is expanding to Richmond Hill. Coowner Joe Lombardo tells us that the new place will be called That’s Italian Express, and it will seat around 25 people, with takeout and delivery comprising about half of the restaurant’s duties.
The original restaurant is known for its stone-baked pizzas and other classic Italian dishes, and the new location will serve a menu that’s mostly the same, including items such as grilled veggie pizza ($17) with bocconcini, roasted red peppers, grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini, basil and extra virgin olive oil. A pasta pescatore ($20) sees linguini served with clams, mussels, tiger shrimp and tomato sauce.
The restaurant’s other owner, Mario Lombardo, is a veteran restaurateur, having opened Regina Pizzeria on College Street over 30
years ago (he sold it to another family member few years ago).
At press time, That’s Italian Express was scheduled to open by Nov. 1.
That’s Italian Express, 10447 Yonge St., 416-482-5426
A TASTE OF CUBA
Corinna Mozo and Victor Coelho — the husband-and-wife team behind Ossington stalwart Delux — have opened a portal to ’50s Cuba on Roncy called La Cubana.
The 30-seat room, previously occupied by the Blue Plate, was given a makeover by Mozo’s brother, Pablo Mozo. The renos were inspired by a lunch counter run by the Mozos’ grandfather back in Cuba. Future plans include a takeout window at the front.
Although Delux serves a dining double bill (Cuban lunch, French dinner), La Cubana is, as the name suggests, focused solely on Cuban fare. The menu is a mix of Delux staples — conch frituras ($7) and molasses-roasted pork shoulder ($15) — and new innovations like the guava barbecue short ribs ($15) and cod croquetas ($6).
La Cubana serves brunch, lunch and dinner, but the menu is conducive to sitting down for a taste of Havana at any hour.
La Cubana, 392 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-538-7500
A GETAWAY IN THE HEART OF CLUBLAND
Over the past 17 years, the Fifth Inc. slowly has been annexing a redbrick in the heart of clubland.
The building houses the Fifth Grill & Terrace, the Fifth Social Club and Cabin Five, and now the empire has expanded to include the building’s lower level, where a café (the Fifth Café) and a Britishinspired pub (the Fifth Pub House) have been set up by owner Oliver Geddes. Both venues officially opened last week.
At the pub, a collection of tartan bar stools, pastoral-printed banquettes and antique knickknacks (plane propellers, a wooden mannequin, wood-carved lamps) offers a distinctly Canadian spin on the British pub.
Chef Brad Livergant (Café Belong, Veritas) has designed an expansive menu of haute pub grub, including wings, nachos and burgers (made from house-ground strip loin, tenderloin and brisket).
Meanwhile, the café is dotted with wooden, mid-century artifacts and is more Parkdale than Richmond Street.
The Fifth Pub House & Café, 225 Richmond St. W., 416-979-0390
It’s a good time for pub lovers in the 905, with two well-known bars set to open new locations in the area. The first is St. Louis Bar and Grill, which is opening at 1383 16th Ave. in Richmond Hill, and the second is Fionn MacCool’s, opening at 6110 Highway 7 in Vaughan.
The Pickle Barrel at Yonge and Eglinton is currently in the midst of a $3 million renovation (complete with a 120-inch television). The midtown restaurant will reopen at the end of November with a revamped menu — with new fare such as quinoa bowls and fresh takes on deli sandwiches.
Montreal celebrity chef Chuck Hughes (who defeated Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America a couple of years ago) is eyeing a location in Baldwin Village for a potential Toronto restaurant. Fingers crossed.
Popular east end restaurant Rakia Bar is expanding to the Annex. Owner Dusan Varga has taken over the space previously occupied by Hrvati Bar, at 690 Euclid Ave., where he intends to offer a menu similar to the one found at the original Rakia, but with a few items from Hrvati Bar, including the famous Balkan hamburger.
Barberian’s Steak House is opening a downscale sister venue, which will be called TLP (Three Little Pigs). It will offer drinks, sandwiches and snacks, and it is scheduled to open before Christmas in a location near the venerable steak house.
Camerini Ristorante has closed its doors after around 30 years in business. The Italian restaurant, located at 709 Mount Pleasant Rd., was a beloved neighbourhood favourite.
Contributors: Caroline Aksich, Katherine Cameron, Gizelle Lau, Jon Sufrin, Igor Yu
Clockwise from top: Estrella Taqueria owners Otta Zapotocky and Chuck Markowitz, a Cuban sandwich from La Cubana, a decadent pasta dish from That’s Italian Express, and the Fifth Pub’s kale salad