Thursday, December 30, 2004

Enfin! Notre coin Mexicain!

A few days ago we finally got an opportunity to follow up on a tip from Michelle’s friend Anna. For years we’d searched high and low for a good, honest, and inexpensive Mexican restaurant here in Montreal—always to no avail. Montreal has a rather sizeable Latin American population these days, and this has resulted in all kinds of great food opportunities, from Latin American grocery stores (such as Andes on St. Laurent), to Chilean eateries (such as Chilenita’s two branches on Marie-Anne and Napoleon), to Salvadorean restaurants (such as the greatly missed La Carreta, formerly on St. Zotique), to Latin American cultural festivals (such as the Colombian festival that takes place in Parc Laurier every summer, and which has become one of our favorite of Montreal’s many, many festivals because of its great selection of home-cooked Colombian fare). This wide variety of Latin American cuisines has helped to enrich the culinary landscape of the city over the past 20-25 years—they represent a rather significant shift in the demographics of Montreal, one that obviously parallels similar trends in many other urban regions across North America. One of the spots which makes our neighborhood (the border region between the Plateau Mont-Royal and Mile End) such a paradise for gourmets and gourmands alike is a tiny little Mexican place called TORTILLERIA MAYA (5274 St. Laurent Blvd.). Tortilleria Maya is the only place in town that we know of that produces authentic Mexican corn tortillas and corn tortilla chips. They produce tortillas by the hundreds all day long on a fairly small tortilla-making machine that takes up about a quarter of the storeroom—they seem to supply all the better Latin American grocery stores and restaurants around the city—and they’re always still warm when you buy them. Personally, I find it hard to make the trip back home after a purchase without eating one plain along the way, especially in the wintertime when a steaming tortilla provides you with a comforting sense of warmer climates. They also serve some rather excellent tacos—complete with lettuce, queso, and crema—and other Mexican specialties to take out. And everything Tortilleria Maya produces is available for a song. But Tortilleria Maya is a veritable island in the sea, here in Montreal. Most of the Mexican restaurants in town are of the kitschy variety that became so common around North America in the ‘70s and ‘80s, complete with gaudy and overly expensive “exotic” mixed drinks, cluttered and cacophonous interiors meant to capture the chaos that is Mexico, “canned” mariachi music, and super-sized plates of ersatz Mexican cuisine served searing-hot, fresh out of the oven (?!). A number of other Mexican restaurants have gone for a more tasteful, less insulting ambience, but our experience has been that the food at these places is good but not outstanding, and that the prices tend to be high.

Anna comes from Cancun, and when she heard Michelle go on about the lack of authentic Mexican in Montreal, she told her about her cousin’s favorite Mexican restaurant: LE COIN DU MEXIQUE / EL RINCON DE MEXICO (2489 Jean-Talon Est; Metro: d’Iberville). We’d been dying to go there ever since Michelle heard about it and then passed on the good news, but it took us until earlier this week to finally find our way there. Le Coin du Mexique was exactly the kind of place we’d been looking for: small and cozy, with a very welcoming atmosphere and a kitchen staffed by three older Mexican women right upfront, filling the dining room with tantalizing scents and adding to the restaurant’s homeyness. We kept our ordering under control, because we’d already spent much of the day eating all kinds of holiday fare, but everything we had was fresh and delicious. We ordered tamales (one of the specials of the day), an order of chicken tacos, an order of pork tacos, and a couple of cervezas. When the young Mexicanas who were sitting next to us saw our order of tamales come out of the kitchen they screamed (quite literally), and promptly added tamales to their order, and, I have to say, the tamales were scream-worthy. They came piping-hot in their corn husks, the white tamal core (made with masa) graced with shredded chicken and a mild red sauce. Tamales are a traditional part of the graveside meals that take place on All Saints’ Day. With the two of us reading Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano at the moment, not only were they tasty, they were also a propos. Our chicken tacos were served with the tortillas tightly wrapped and deep-fried—a style I’ve read about in cookbooks and magazines but had never actually tasted until the other night. The chicken was unadorned but flavorful and tender, and it played nicely off the hot, crispy texture of the tortilla, and the lettuce, queso, and crema that was served on top of the tacos. The pork tacos were of the soft taco variety. Four soft corn tortillas were filled with a sweet and spicy stewed pork mixture complete with pineapple, and accompanied by a bowl of pickled onion and cilantro to fill them with. We put a healthy pinch of onion and cilantro in each, added a dollop of Le Coin du Mexique’s homemade salsa verde, rolled them up and devoured them. They were truly excellent, and although we were tempted to order some of the platanos Le Coin du Mexique had on offer as a special dessert, after finishing the pork tacos we decided, “with entrées like this, who needs dessert?” Next time we’ll bring larger appetites and we’ll branch out and try a wider selection of Le Coin du Mexique’s offerings—including what looked like impressive Chicken Enchiladas with Mole Poblano. If you’ve been looking for a real Mexican restaurant with honest Mexican soul food at reasonable prices, Le Coin du Mexique is the place for you. If 2489 East Jean-Talon seems out of the way to you, think again: d’Iberville Metro station is right across the street.


P.S.—if you have your own Montreal Mexican restaurant tips (or any non-Montreal Mexican restaurant tips, for that matter), please send them our way—Eds.


Anonymous said...

the food was good but the service mediocre! first of all there was a tootpick in the guacamole... my wife main course and mine were not served at the same time... 15 minutes apart...

you might consider a take out!

Anonymous said...

When is this year's Colombian festival at Parc Laurier?

MediaGuy said...

hi there

Try out in the Quartier Latin, a new place with a gorgeous terrace called cafe El Ranchito.

Its the food that is different (apart from the terrace - I love terraces).

As the waiter explained to a very touristy looking couple next to our table, this is not American Mexican, but real - latin and mexican done by a real chef from the area.

I had their flautas, quesadilla, and of course tacos, and a few other things. They also have a couple typical things on the menu, like pizza and hamburgers... but that's for those afraid to try something new i geuss...

anyhow - again it's Enjoy!