Calle Mexico South Side
7704 104 St. NW
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dinner for two, excluding beverages, tip and taxes: Basic, $30, loaded, $60
Food: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns
Service: 4 of 5 Suns
By GRAHAM HICKS
If a restaurant’s food is good, but thoroughly conventional, is it to be praised or criticized?
Visiting the latest and third location of Calle Mexico, I found myself in this very quandary.
The menu at this most recent edition of Calle Mexico – in the former Atlantic Trap & Grill on 104 Street a few blocks south of Whyte Avenue – is as stereotypically American-Mexican as every other Mexican fast food joint in town.
You have eaten all this stuff since you were a kid. Tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, quesadillas, chips, salsas, nachos, guacamole, shredded pork, beef, chicken, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, sliced avocado, sliced tomatoes and that great mystery as to why it is even called food, mushy re-fried beans.
And off to the side, one way or another, in every Mexican restaurant, are mild, medium and atomic jalapeno sauces – of which chipotle is but one of many. Calle Mexico’s sideboard is weighed down by small vats of hot pepper sauces of varying spicy intensity for ladling over one’s food. The atomic is truly atomic!
Mexican food need not be so darned predictable. Rostizado, one of the city’s better full-service restaurants, has a wonderful array of Mexican, Latin and Central American fusion dishes. Rostizado’s Executive Chef Edgar Gutierrez steers as far away from tacos and burritos as possible.
But every other Mexican restaurant in this town (including Rostizado’s older sister Tres Carnales) does not vary from the same 10 staple dishes.
Within the tried ‘n’ true, Juan Talango and his family take great pride in Calle Mexico. They have grown the business from one food truck a few years ago to two food trucks, the original Calle Mexico restaurant on 107 Avenue, a food court operation in West Edmonton Mall, and now Old Strathcona.
The clean, brightly painted interior has the feel of a simple, airy, high ceiling neighbourhood bar/restaurant in Mexico … if the temperature was 40 degrees warmer.
The food is very good. It’s just conventional.
The “famous” Calle Mexico tostadas, a trio of crispy tortillas with the usual mound of shredded everything, were bountiful, fresh and given a slight twist with the use of feta rather than cheddar cheese.
Where Calle Mexico does stray slightly off the beaten Mexican food path is in a selection of tortas – or Mexican bun sandwiches. The torta Milanese, featuring a breaded, deep-fried veal cutlet, was the most original item on the menu. It proved a decent choice – a nice, hot but somewhat stringy, crunchy cutlet smothered with the usual ingredients. The bun itself was fresh and fluffy.
The rest of our lunch was tasty and fresh, but the same old, same old.
Sopes, as defined by Calle Mexico, was a soft open taco topped with the usual and chicken salad. The guacamole and chips – a fresh, chilled generous serving of guacamole, but exactly the same recipe as everybody else.
It’s a nice place. The friendly and efficient staff (featuring the hard-working Juan himself) get the food from kitchen to table quickly. Calle Mexico South Side is kid-friendly. A big comfortable bar spreads across one wall.
But it would be so much better if the kitchen moved off of all these default recipes, even to offer just a dish or two from the vast array of regional Mexican foods that rarely show up north of the American border.
• Another Old Strathcona Mexican restaurant, El Cortez, has commissioned Chef Lindsay Porter to re-invent its menu.
Several years ago, before leaving to open her own, very successful London Local English restaurant, chef Porter did overhaul El Cortez’s Mexican menu with great results. But after her departure, it slipped back to the same predictable level as every other Mexican restaurant. Anything Porter does will be refreshing, interesting and successful.
• Joe Rustom is back! The Rustom’s Parkallen Mediterranean Restaurant and pizzeria, at 109 Street south of 76 Street for decades, shut down in early 2019. Rustom has now opened Barbarella, in the old Milestones in the west end, on 100 Avenue west of 170 Street.