Pancho y Emiliano
Toronto, ON M5T 2L6
Kensington Market’s newest Mexican restaurant — Pancho y Emiliano — takes its name from two of Mexico’s most famous revolutionaries: Emiliano Zapata and Francisco “Pancho” Villa.
Co-owners Serena Prontack, Jose Luis Lopez and Carlos Rivera are each from a different Mexican region, and have each brought their particular hometown’s specialities to the menu.
Lopez, from Torreon, Coahuila (in the north), has left his imprint on the tacos, which are made in the northern Mexican style. Unlike central Mexican tacos, which use corn tortillas, northern tacos make use of flour tortillas. These ones ($5.75) come in six different varieties, from the familiar chicken tinga to the less-well-known beef barbacoa.
Rivera, who hails from central Mexico, brings Mexico City-style quesadillas to the menu. These differ from North American quesadillas in that they are cooked on a comal (a flat griddle used to cook tortillas) without any oil. Three quesadilla options are on offer: Oaxaca cheese, mushroom and chicharrón ($4.25 apiece).
Prontack is from Santiago Jocotepec, Oaxaca (in the south), and she has brought her family’s specialty to the table: tamales that are steamed in banana leaves, rather than corn husks. The banana leaves are waxier than their corn counterparts, which means the tamales can turn into a mushy mess if you aren’t privy to Prontack’s secret techniques. Tamales ($3.75) come stuffed with a choice of green chicken or chili-ajo pork. There’s also a vegan option with carrots, broccoli, tomatos and onion (the restaurant makes a real effort to accommodate vegetarians and vegans).
Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa not only inspired the restaurant’s name, but also the décor, which plays on the sepia monochrome of an iconic photo of the two revolutionaries. A print of the aforementioned photo (which depicts Zapata and Villa relaxing in the presidential palace after celebrating a victory) sits atop a piano by Pancho y Emiliano's entrance.
The space is nearly unrecognizable from its former incarnation as a shoe store. Playing on the sepia colour scheme are rough-hewn maple communal tables with the bark still on. Benches are made from barn beams, and the space’s frontier charm is reinforced by decorative details such as an antique oil lamp.
Pancho y Emiliano won’t just be a place to get your taco fix, but a Mexican cultural hub. Rivera hopes to have a small library of books about Mexican history and culture. The downstairs, which is currently empty, will house a Latin American artisan market. Plans are also in the works include live Mexican entertainment, but don’t think mariachi bands and sombreros; the lineup will feature acts such as blues singer Rosy Cervantes.