The last time I climbed these stairs, the year was 2006 and the destination an Indian restaurant I quite liked called Jaipur Bistro. Before that, it was one of the Roses Café locations before the Roses Cafés all closed down. And before that, I really can’t recall – probably a shawarma joint, given the flood of them in this neighbourhood.
The second floor of 349 Dalhousie St. is now a homespun-looking nightclub. It plays tunes – according to its grand opening announcement of a couple of weeks ago – from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, plus Old School Latin, Brazilian and World Music.
But before the mirror balls start spinning, the little tables set around the perimeter of the shiny white dance floor are covered with jaunty vinyl cloths and from 11 a.m.through to about 9 p.m., they serve tacos here – Mauro Rosario’s tacos, and they’re pretty yummy.
Mauro is a caterer, I understand, who has worked at a number of embassies (though not always as a cook). He used to make his tacos somewhere else, “close by,” I am told by his fans at neighbouring tables, but only for the public on Sundays. He was convinced by those who loved his Mexican dishes to move, to open six days a week and I guess to share space with the “Discoteka” nightspot.
From Tuesday to Friday, Mauro supplements his tacos with tostadas, quesadillos and tortas, plus soup, salad and desserts, and on weekends there are specials that come and go – mole con pollo, pozole rojo, chiles rellenos, tamales. No chimichangas, no sizzling fajitas, no deep-fried, cornflake-wrapped ice cream with chocolate syrup. This is as close as a restaurant can get to home cooking in a disco, and seems a home away from home for Mexicans yearning for familiar tastes. We are the only English speakers one night. Everyone is very keen that we gringos like the food. And we do.
The made-to-order soft corn tacos come in threes, and range from slow-roasted pork (slightly sweet, very juicy) to pulled lamb, to chorizo and potato with onion. Add chopped cilantro, a squeeze of lime, a smear of the modestly hot smooth-green chilli sauce, or a dollop of the slightly zippier red one. You are invited to personalize these tacos with these sides, and the result, once you’ve folded them all together, are very tasty packages, easily wolfed down.
I’ve found a reason to climb these black stairs a few times to sample the range of tacos. My latest lunch discovery is tacos dorados de pollo – crunchy cigars filled with moist chicken, served with guacamole and tangy cheese.
At dinner, we begin with a delicate lamb consommé. A chicken leg is moist beneath its thick cover of startlingly black, grainy mole – a sauce that weaves a satisfying bitter ness and zippy heat in with the dark edge of chocolate sweetness. It comes with rice and inky, sludgy black beans (delicious) spotted with creamy Oaxaca cheese. And don’t pass up the roast pork – carnitas Michoacan-style, cooked for hours and hours until the meat collapses into soft strings, stuffed in a bun with avocado and refried beans – or the steaming meal in a bowl called pozole.
There’s a nice corn cake dusted with cinnamon and served with a mango sauce, and a slightly overcooked vanilla flan for dessert, with a proper caramel. But I’m sold on the lightly frosted tres leches cake – a wildly moist vanilla cake imbibed with cream, condensed and evaporated milks.
You could be very happy with a Dos Equis here. I drink the Mexican red Jamaica (pronounced Ha-mike-ah) hibiscus tea, a cranberry-coloured brew that goes well with that cake.