It’s funny how holidays change once they cross borders. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated almost exclusively in the state of Puebla. (In this way, it’s roughly analogous to Quebec’s St. Jean Baptiste Day.) In the U.S. (and increasingly Canada) it is growing to include everything from parades to margarita happy hours.
Similarly, Kensington Market has been, for over a century, the Toronto neighbourhood that reflects our city’s changing and diverse population. From tortas to tacos, the market is a hot spot for eating all things Mexican and Latin American on the fifth of May.
Now that Mexican Salsas has closed, El Trompo leads the old guard of Mexican taco joints in the neighbourhood. The pineapple-accented al pastor and just-the-right-amount-of-heat chorizo are the leading options from the taco section of the menu. Plus, the room delivers character in spades. 277 Augusta Ave., 416-260-0097
El pastor, Gobernador and Baja fish tacos from Seven Lives. (IMAGE: DAVID ORT)
Tacos started in Mexico but southern California was an important waypoint on their journey to world domination. Seven Lives is Toronto’s best option for the Baja version of the hand-held meal.
The objectively massive Gobernador (a hearty combination of smoked tuna, shrimp and cheese — a piscine BBQ) is the best-known menu item for good reason. As a counterpart, the Baja fish is a good choice with its crispy battered texture and balancing acidic tang from the salsa garnish. 69 Kensington Ave., 416-393-4636
The vibrant environs at Torteria San Cosme (IMAGE: Jason Finestone)
Torteria San Cosme
Once you’ve filled up on tacos, it’s time for a sandwich at Torteria San Cosme. The menu is built around tortas, the standard sandwich of Mexico City. It’s difficult to pick between the nine-odd options, but the cochinita (Yucatán pulled pork), the Cubana (three types of pork — ham, adobo braised, and bacon — all from nearby Sanagan’s Meat Locker) and the Del Chavo (ham, Oaxaca cheese, avocado) are good places to start your shortlist.
A tamarind agua fresca and a window seat are nearly mandatory accessories for an afternoon spent watching one of the city’s most vibrantly hectic ’hoods. 181 Baldwin St., 416- 599-2855
One of Jumbo Empanadas’ namesakes (IMAGE: CJ Baek)
The menu at Jumbo includes options other than Chile’s take on the pastry-packaged meal, including corn pie, humitas and Chilean salad.
But the main draw at this Kensington stalwart are the chicken, beef or vegetarian empanadas. At $4.50 they are one of the best value meals in the market — at $2, the cheese ones are an even better deal. 245 Augusta Ave., 416- 977-0056
Churros at Pancho’s (IMAGE: CJ Baek)
Pancho’s is the elder statesman and anchor of the Latin American food court on Augusta Avenue. They have a full case of baked sweet and savoury options, but the churros really are the ticket. Go for the four for $5 deal so that you don’t have to choose between chocolate, dulce de leche, strawberry and condensed milk fillings. 214 Augusta Ave., 416-854-8770
A tart, refreshing cocktail based on jalapeno reposado. (IMAGE: DAVID ORT)
After all that eating, a pre-nap nightcap is in order. For cocktails, Cold Tea is well worth the hunt. (It’s the last door on your left inside the indoor plaza.)
Co-owner and bartender Oliver Dimapilis can handle the classics, but it’s better to give him an idea of what you’re in the mood for and then let him do the rest. For me, that was a jalapeno reposado base with Cointreau, lime and cucumber layered on top: a boozy prelude to spring. 60 Kensington Ave., 416-546-4536