The question kept popping up: “Have you been to the taco disco yet?” And every time I heard it — which was at least four times in the past month — I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the punch line to a joke. But this is no joke. Los Tacos de Mauro is the real deal. Yes indeed, fresh, homemade authentic Mexican food is being served — by the white-aproned cook himself — in a downtown nightclub called Discoteka…disco balls, light-up dance floor and all. The setting may be slightly surreal, but the owner infuses the place with genuine hospitality and the food is a notch above.
On a global scale, Mexican food has moved into the spotlight. As I mentioned here back in October after my City Bites Live event featuring Toronto Chef Francisco Alejandri, traditional Mexican cuisine was recently recognized by UNESCO for its “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”. But how many of us here in Ottawa have tasted genuine Mexican food, rather than Tex-Mex or some watered-down version of it? Chef Alejandri’s food — so light, fresh, and far from cheese-smothered — convinced me I hadn’t. I am delighted that a trip down the 401 is unnecessary, the tacos at Los Tacos de Mauro in the Byward Market are a game changer for this city.
The Market happens to be home now to a handful of Mexican snackbar-style spots: Ahora has been joined by Burrito Burracho, and the brand new Corazon de Maiz in ByWard Market Square (I’ll have to try that one next). It’s right on cue for trendspotters who have said the taco could be the next hamburger — and here in Ottawa, the soft-shelled variety seems to be popping up everywhere: Stone Soup Foodworks has Taco Tuesdays, the Manx makes a popular plate of tofu tacos, The Piggy Market offers tacos for lunch on Thursdays, while Sidedoor does it with an Asian twist.
While I have enjoyed many of Ottawa’s trendier tacos, the fresh homemade corn tacos made by Mauro Rosario, a caterer turned restaurateur, are the best example I’ve tasted (since Alejandri’s visit), of how simple, fresh and truly tasty Mexican food can be. The slow-coked lamb tacos and Michoacan style pork (tacos de carnitas) are served in trios — three soft tortillas are topped with a modest amount of gently seasoned juicy shredded meat. The excitement comes from boosting the meaty flavour by way of five little bowls of very fresh toppings: chopped cilantro, diced white onion, lime wedges, red salsa, and a green creamy jalapeño sauce for kick. I must also mention my dining companion’s sensational chilaquiles — fried, chopped-up tortillas covered with red salsa, with cooling crema and mounds of soft white cheese — served with wonderful refried beans and a huge steak. Wow.
Sitting above a shawarma shop looking out across the Byward Market surrounded by the Latin rhythms of Mexico under mirrored disco balls, it all just adds to the charm of this deliciously offbeat gem.
Cost: Tacos $7.50 (on weekends served à la carte); $8.50-9.50 on weekdays served with soup or salad
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.
Los tacos de Mauro (inside the Dalhousie Discoteka), 349 Dalhousie St., 613-562-9756.