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Playa Cabana Cantina is the latest restaurant to open in Toronto to fuel our newfound taco addiction in the city. It’s located in The Junction at 2883 Dundas St. West (at Keele).
Playa Cabana Cantina is the second location for Playa Cabana – with it’s first location on Dupont (at Davenport). The Junction has accepted it well, considering there were absolutely no reservations available for the whole weekend – but they assured me that they keep the bar open for walk ins.
So we walked in. Right away I was impressed by the decor, there’s plenty of neon-lit signs including a shout out to JUNCTION – WEST TORONTO, and an “Keep and Enforce Prohibition” sign at the bar – perhaps a little tongue in cheek reference to The Junction’s past as a dry neighbourhood until 2000.
The menu here is set up a little differently than other taco favourites like Grand Electric or La Carnita. Instead of ordering tapas style – one taco at a time, Playa Cantina’s menu includes everything from tacos and tostados to burritos and enchiladas along with a side of rice and black or pinto beans.
We started off the meal with guacamole and chips. The chips arrived warm to the table and were extra crispy and fresh. The guacamole was smooth and not too spicy for our tastes. The bartender replenished the chips free of charge too, which is a great touch.
Playa Cabana Cantina has a fresh oyster bar set up, and at $2 a shuck, we couldn’t resist them. They were huge, no skimping here, and were served with horseradish and hot sauce. Then, we each ordered a set of tacos with a side of rice and black beans, after starting off with Amber Agave Margaritas.
The Ancho Braised Shortrib-Brisket Crispy Tacos were served on a corn tortilla with melted cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo. They came to the table piping hot, and the mix of brisket and cheese was perfect along with the extra crispy tortilla. They were reasonably priced at $14 for an entree.
Next up was the Tacos de Pescado (Baja-Style fish tacos) for $13 . They were a little underwhelming in comparison. The breaded tilapia didn’t have the substance to stand up to the guacamole and shredded cabbage filling. Usually I’m a big fan of a good fish taco but this wasn’t the best I’ve had lately.
Personally, I prefer picking and choosing different tacos to try instead of ordering them as a personal entree. The sides of yellow rice and beans were fresh and a great addition, but it would have been great to try a few different kinds of tacos instead of three of one kind.
With another round of drinks coming, we felt the need for some dessert… Unsure of what to get, the bartender recommended the Mexican Flan, so we gave it a shot. After waiting a little longer than necessary (I think the kitchen forgot about us), our bartender arrived with the flan, which was actually 2 mini flan served with whipped cream. He apologized for the delay and said the dessert was on the house.
Overall the personal service at the bar was great, the bartender gave us a lot of recommendations on what to order and was more than helpful. The atmosphere was comfortable and casual, it didn’t have that ‘too cool’ vibe that many new restaurants are picking up on now.
We definitely will be returning to try out the burritos and other menu items along with the amazing guacamole again too. The tacos were flavourful, with fresh, house made ingredients but not the best of what the city has to offer right now.
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- Man. This whole area is pretty packed with coffee shops. Just up the road in The Junction, there’s Crema, The Good Neighbour, and a Starbucks; just down the road in Roncys, there’s Alternative Grounds, Coffee and All that Jazz, and yet another Starbucks. And that’s just to name a few… The neighbourhood, it seems, is littered with coffee shops. So how does Hula Girl stack up against all the rest of them? Really, really nicely.
Hula Girl isn’t just another boring-old coffee shop; it’s an ‘espresso boutique’, and they focus their boutique-ish expertise on blends of Kona coffee beans and turning those blends of beans into near-perfect cups of espresso. The owners are clearly not only passionate about coffee, but knowledgeable about it too; it becomes blatantly obvious with the first sip. The espresso is noticeably balanced and brewed with a high-level of skill. Simply put, they have some truly nice people that are dam good at pulling espressos standing behind their shiny brewing machine.
No worries if espresso isn’t your thing. They have some of their Kona blends brewed and served as the standard coffee fare too, which is also seriously good. They’ve got a nice window at the front counter with some baked goods. There isn’t much there right now, as I think they’ve only recently started serving food, but it sure would look good stocked with some interesting, local pastries and deserts.
The space is beautiful too. Chances are, after you pick up an espresso you’re going to want to stay for a bit and soak up some of the killer atmosphere. Old wood, exposed brick, shiny chrome, the entire space is exquisitely designed and faultlessly put together. Fair warning though, the insides may be pretty to look at, but they sure aren’t big. It’s ok though. What Hula Girl lacks in space, it makes up in comfort. Sitting around Hula Girl and sipping an espresso just feels good. The space is nice, and there’s a few wooden chairs and a little bar space where relaxing music, a comfortable vibe, and fantastic coffee is all in abundance.
Chances are, they’ll be busy too. People around here seem to have already shifted their morning-coffee-loyalties over to Hula Girl, and that’s a good thing, for Hula Girl and you. Somehow, in this small environment, more people just make it feel cozier, which you’ll appreciate. And obviously it’s good for Hula Girl because they get to succeed and stick-around, and honestly, there isn’t much that’s nicer to see succeed than an independent business run by nice people.
Good on the folks at Hula Girl for opening up on this tired part of Dundas with its old pizza joints and 2 dollar palm reading shops. This street really needed a place like this, and no doubt the people that live there will appreciate it too. Especially among all the artsy stuff that’s crept up around here, pizza and palm-readings aside, Hula Girl seems perfectly at home.
Like I said, the coffee is spectacular. So if you want some near-perfect espresso made by people that truly know what that means, then Hula Girl should be on your to-do-list; but if you’re looking for a place to grab a donut and suck up some free-WiFi, keep walking up the street to The Junction or down the street to Roncys.
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P.S. Kona beans come from Hawaii, which is where the hula girl gimmick gets it’s ground.