Doña Cata Mexican Food (Restaurant & Taqueria)

Restaurant: Doña Cata Mexican Food
Cuisine: Mexican/Tacos
Last visited: October 11, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Kensington)
Address: 5076 Victoria Drive
Price Range: $10 or less

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3 (3.5 if you use the salsas and based on tacos only)
Service: 3
Ambiance: 2
Overall: 3
Additional comments:

  • Since 2011
  • Mexican family owned/operated
  • Specializes in authentic Mexican food
  • Popular for tacos
  • Homemade/Homestyle
  • Home made salsas
  • No seafood options
  • Very casual/quick
  • Budget friendly/cheap eats
  • Vegetarian/Vegan friendly
  • Cheap drinks/sangria
  • Good for watching soccer game
  • Dine in/Take-out
  • Mon-Sat 11am-7pm (Sometimes until 10pm, but depends)

**Recommendations: Must use their salsas with tacos. Longaniza (cured sausage) tacos, Carne Enchilada tacos, and the horchata and mole sauce is good.

Gaahhhh!! I have such a love hate relationship with our Mexican restaurants in Vancouver, BC. Actually it’s not even a love/hate, it’s just a frustration because of the lack of selection for it, and I just know it gets better. I guess we win in other areas like Asian and Japanese cuisine though. Anyways this week I’ve been posting about tacos, and this is another popular choice for authentic Mexican tacos in Vancouver.

It’s another hole in the wall eatery, right by the other hole in the wall Mexican eatery El Caracol Mexican Cafe. The area is known for dive-ish looking restaurants and it’s full of hidden gems. Both of these places are supposed to fall into that category and are popular with neighbourhood locals and the small Mexican population that exists in Vancouver. I’ve been meaning to try Doña Cata Mexican for ages now since the only time I’ve tried them are at catered events. Well I stopped waiting!

Doña Cata Mexican Restaurant & Taqueria rivals the other popular and well known taco joint La Taqueria. I hate saying this, but I find both are good in the context of Vancouver, but outside of Vancouver, it just falls short. Due to the lack of selection for this type of cuisine, they both become the “best tacos in Vancouver”, and I can’t say I feel too good about that theory either. It’s like if Hon’s was the only Chinese restaurant in Vancouver, then of course it could be “the best”… but if you put it relative to everything else, it can get so much better.

I actually found this part the most charming! The pull down projection screen that plays the soccer (or as they call football) games. The place has cheap drinks and it attracts a young local Mexican crowd on game nights. It just made the place feel so legit.

This was the other highlight for me. The large variety of home made salsas which I really appreciated. It was something to show off and I loved that it was self serve and complimentary. Just like La Taqueria, the tacos are reliant on the salsas to give it flavour, which actually kind of bothers me. I do want the meats to be able to carry their own flavour too. Regardless, it’s a bang for your buck kind of place, but if you’re going to go into detail, then they might not rise to your expectations for authentic Mexican tacos.

It’s definitely not as Americanized, but in the cateogry of “authentic Mexican tacos” it can taste better. In Vancouver it’s considered excellent, but on the grand scheme of things (even just comparing to places as close as Seattle, not even Mexico) it’s considered mediocre. In short, Doña Cata Mexican Restaurant & Taqueria is a Mexican owned and operated eatery, but it just looked and felt more authentic than it actually tasted, at least for the tacos. I was rooting for it and actually really wanted to love it too.
Just for quick and easy reference, here’s a Taco chart.

Comparing Mexican Tacos in Vancouver

Doña Cata, La Taqueria & Don Guacamole’s

Doña Cata

La Taqueria

Don Guacamole’s

Flavour of meats in tacos
Tacos need salsa, meats a bit dry and under seasoned, a bit greasy Seasoned meats, good quality meats, mild flavour, and tacos require salsas Most seasoned and flavourful meats, not greatest quality meats, doesn’t require salsa
Type of filling for tacos
Meats, no seafood, no “exotic meats” like beef tongue, couple vegetarian options Meat/seafood options, sustainable meats, most vegetarian options Meats, no seafood, couple vegetarian options
Salsas 10 homemade salsas 4 homemade salsas 3 homemade salsas
Price $2/taco Meat tacos: $2.50 each / 4 for $9.50 Veggie tacos $2 each / 4 for $7

$2.75/taco / 4 for $10

Note: There are certainly more taco options than this in Metro Vancouver, I just took the three most popular restaurants for authentic Mexican tacos. These places aren’t necessarily the best, but it gives an idea, and my taco hunt is not finished.

On the table:

**Horchata4/6

  • A refreshing homemade rice and cinnamon based drink lightly sweetened with sugar $2.50
  • I love this drink, and it was pretty good here, but it was a bit sweeter than I like.
  • It’s sweeter, slightly thicker and richer than the horchata at La Taqueria. It’s also a bit stronger in cinnamon flavour, but it’s not spicy or anything.
  • It was almost custard like compared to others, and it’s sweet and refreshing drink that works well with all the spices from the salsas.

Complimentary Chips

  • It’s free and appreciated so no complaints really, but if you want fresh corn tortilla chip nachos, I would also recommend the nachos from El Caracol Mexican Cafe (see here) just a block away.

Homemade Salsas (Left to right)

  • I loved the variety of self serve complimentary home made salsas.
  • I just wish the tacos weren’t so reliant on the salsas to give them flavour.
  • Green Tomato: It was actually quite sour, but not necessarily sour with lime juice. It had an aftertaste I wasn’t keen on.
  • Regular Tomato: This was just a simple puree of stewed tomatoes. It could have even been a base to marinade meat.
  • Chile: This one was my least favourite and I found it spicy, very bitter and very smoky, but the flavour wasn’t pleasant.
  • Peanut: I loved this because it was different! It was made with lots of ground peanuts and it seemed more Thai than it did Mexican to me. It was a citrusy peanut sauce with a bit of heat. I liked it with the nachos, more so than with the tacos though. It works well with the chicken.
  • Chipotle: I knew this would be my favourite, and it was. It’s sweet, tangy and spicy and it just had the most well rounded flavours to me. I felt the same way about the chipotle salsa at La Taqueria.
  • Mexicano: This was a classic fresh tomato, onion and cilantro salsa. It was refreshing and not spicy.
  • Avocado: It was really thin and not a guacamole, but an avocado sauce. It was quite refreshing with lots of lime juice and I used it a lot for the tacos.
  • Jalapenos and Onions: They were what they were.
  • Very Hot Salsa: It was quite hot, and the spice gradually builds and lingers. It was thick and pasty, a bit mustard like and quite bitter. It’s not particularly my favorite hot salsa.

Original Tacos

  • $2.00 each, with cheese $2.50
  • Since I was on a taco mission, I only tried their tacos. I give it the benefit of the doubt that the rest of the menu could be better.
  • I didn’t not like the tacos, but I was expecting more from them. I found them very okay to good.
  • I found the meats generally a bit dry and under marinated and under seasoned. I couldn’t taste the flavours from the cooking techniques either like roasting or braising.
  • I understand that the salsas are meant to give it flavour, but it was very reliant on the salsa and alone the meats were almost bland.
  • The tacos were very greasy, but not as flavourful with meat juices, it was more so just oil.
  • They’re double corn tortilla shells, as they should be, and I liked how filled each taco was, but the meats just seemed quite ordinary.
  • These are authentic Mexican in style, but in terms of flavour they were lacking. They just tasted the way they looked…
  • In the end for $2/taco it’s a bang for your buck.

Barbacoa de Borrego (Lamb)3/6

  • Slow-braised lamb loin in a secret house blend of chiles and spices $2.00 each, with cheese $2.50
  • The lamb was bland and I couldn’t see or taste any chiles or spices, but it was tender and well shredded, but not juicy or very moist.
  • It had a slight gamey aftertaste, but it wasn’t overpowering. If you’re extremely sensitive to game, you’ll probably still taste it in this.

Carnitas3/6

  • Succulent pieces of slow roasted pulled pork and herbs $2.00 each, with cheese $2.50
  • This is my favourite kind of taco, so I have higher expectations for it.
  • It usually is oily because it’s roasted pulled pork fried in fat, but this one was oily without the flavour.
  • It was dripping with oil, but it wasn’t flavourful pork juices, it just tasted like shredded pork in oil.
  • The meat was slightly dry and brittle too, and if anything this one should be the least dry.
  • I like carnitas with pickled onions on top so I prefer the one at La Taqueria – see here, and although different, I strongly recommend trying the Tostada Carnitas from El Barrio – see here.
  • Just for reference, the most authentic carnitas taco I’ve had is from Riviera Maya Mexican Cuisine.

Al Pastor 2.5/6

  • Marinated pork loin, slow-roasted with spices, chiles and pineapple $2.00 each, with cheese $2.50
  • The pork loin was marinated in a tomato base with a mild heat and this one actually had some flavour without requiring salsa.
  • It was braised with the pineapple and I actually like it when they also top it of with fresh pineapple like they do at La Taqueria, however that method isn’t really authentic. I just like that extra pop of flavour when it’s fresh.
  • I liked that it was pieces of pork rather than the crumbled pork they have at La Taqueria though.
  • I couldn’t taste any pineapple in this one and the pineapple flavour had disappeared from even the pineapple pieces.
  • The pork was lean, so it was naturally drier, but it was quite dry regardless if it wasn’t for the marinade.

**Carne Enchilada 3.5/6

  • Shredded pork loin bathed in a chile sauce $2.00 each, with cheese $2.50
  • This one had more flavour than the Al Pastor and it had a meatier bite.
  • The meat was quite lean, so naturally a bit drier, but it was also just a bit dry too.
  • It was marinated in a slightly spicier chile sauce so this one had flavour without the salsa as well.
  • I wanted some more seasoning and spices and I just missed juiciness. It was already the second most flavourful though.

**Longanitza (Cured pork sausage) – 5/6

  • Cured pork ground sausage with chili and spices $2.00 each, with cheese $2.50
  • This was easily my favourite taco of the night!
  • It had the most flavour and it was so obvious compared to everything else.
  • It was like bland, bland, bland, FLAVOUR! I could have eaten this meat by itself.
  • The meat had a good amount of fat (being cured pork sausage) and it was moist, and juicy and well seasoned.
  • I don’t know if everything else just seemed ‘meh’ that I was so impressed by this, but I would order this again.
  • The meat was already salty being cured, and it was also well marinated with spicy chilies and spices throughout.
  • I would have rather had 6 of these than one of everything.

Pollo (with Mole sauce)1.5/6 for the chicken, 4.5/6 for the sauce

  • Chicken poached with Mexican herbs & shredded $2.00 each, with cheese $2.50
  • Doña Cata’s family recipe for mole rojo boast over 25 ingredients including Mexican chocolate & five different dry chiles.
  • This was a special request because it’s not offered as a taco, but I wanted to try the mole sauce. They had no problems with the request.
  • This chicken was all white meat and it was the driest of them all. It wasn’t only because it’s white meat chicken, but it was just overcooked and hard to chew and swallow.
  • The chicken was very bland as you can see too.
  • The mole sauce on the other hand was fantastic! It had so much flavour and it required no salsas.
  • The sauce wasn’t as sweet and chocolatey as the mole sauce at La Taqueria. This one was more sophisticated, dark and smoky rather than sweet.
  • The mole was very thick and creamy and very well textured with ground nuts (?) and seeds used to make it.
  • It wasn’t really spicy, but bold and robust with flavour and I loved the grainy paste like texture it had which made that fresh home made quality really stand out.
  • From what I’ve tried, it was the second best mole I’ve tried next to the Pollo En Mole from El Barrio.
  • One thing is that I do wish the chicken was cooked into the mole sauce before serving and not just poured on top like it was.

Beans2.5/6

  • $2.00 each, with cheese $2.50
  • Originally I had asked for the Bistek (chopped steak) taco and they ran out of it and gave me this without telling me. I don’t mind, but a heads up would be nice.
  • The beans were creamy and savoury, but it wasn’t anything different than what you’ve likely had before. It was refried beans.
  • I ended up eating it with a side order of cactus.

Nopales (Cactus)2.5/6

  • Tender cactus paddles $4
  • This was a side order. I’ve had it once before, but it is texturally somewhat acquired. For what it is, it could be excellent here, but for me personally, it’s not something I’d order again.
  • It’s a bit slimy, slightly crunchy, but tender and it’s a cross between a pickled poblano pepper and stewed okra. I like both, but this one was a bit sour for me.
  • It’s quite sour rather than sweet and smoky, but it didn’t really do anything for me.
  • It’s great for vegetarians and vegans.

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15 Comments

  • LotusRapper says:

    “I just wish the tacos weren’t so reliant on the salsas to give them flavour.”

    Hehe Mijune, exactly my thoughts. I admit, after awhile, all their varieties of fillings started to taste the same (and also greasier than my liking). And if it weren’t for the salsas, I think their tacos wouldn’t appeal to me as much (but ambiance and people are ok). I really like the peanut and chipotle salsas, mixed.

    If you go next time, try the tres leches cake for IIRC $3. Mmmm !

    If only Dona Cata has the quality of taco fillings as La Taqueria, and keeping all their 9-10 salsas 🙂

  • LotusRapper says:

    I just noticed you have a tag/category called “hole in the wall” 😀

    Timely coincidence:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/809019

  • Linda says:

    mmmm tacos! do you find that the better quality the taco, the less you need to add to it? i found that one of the tastiest tacos i ate didn’t require anything other than some cilantro and onions.. everything else like the cheese and the salsa just got in the way! i know you feel that way about the sauces, what do you think of tacos sans cheese?

    mmmm, the longanitza sounds delish, i must try that next time 🙂

  • Mijune says:

    @LR – omg!!! Did you break into my blog posts?!?! I swear I just wrote the same thing in one of my posts I have set for tomorrow!! SCARY!!! That whole bite about La Taqueria and Dona Cata coming together… omg you have to read it tomorrow1

    @Linda – hmmm good question!!!! Not necessarily.. like excellent sashimi can still use a tad of wasabi because it opens up the palate… it might not need soy, but it could use wasabi. For a taco I do want it to have its own flavour and the salsa to just highlight it a little…. not to mask it or give it flavour. However at that Jersey place I didn’t need any salsa unless I wanted a bit of spice. American tacos I like with cheese and generally anything with cheese is good.. like the ying yang rice with cheese… I mean it’s definitely not authentic, but is it good? Sure it can be good. Wow… those were awesome questions linda!!! Have u been here before?

  • LotusRapper says:

    @Mijune – hehe, you’ll never know now 😉

    But seriously, it seems logical, don’t it ….. best of La Taqueria + Dona Cata = “Dona Cataqueria” 😀

    …. like Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups, a la:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nUIlcNoUy4&feature=related

  • Linda says:

    nope not yet! 🙂 with me, tacos are the same as sushi, the less i add, the better.. i’ve NEVER added soy sauce or wasabi to sushi! sashimi yes, but sushi no! lol everyone always thinks i’m weird for not adding anything but i’m a true purist 🙂 i do agree that wasabi definitely opens up your palate… and your nostrils toO!

  • Mijune says:

    @LR – so funny!! Hope you read my Don Gucamole’s post today!

    @Linda – REally??! I’m opposite… sashimi little wasbi, but no soy sauce… and sushi… soy sauce.. .unless it has it’s own unique sauce. But I do remember you saying you’re a purist lol. do you like sour cream with perogies? Or Hoisin with Peking wraps? Or maggi sauce in congee? Of fries with ketchup? lol ok… i’ll stop. Thanks for commenting linda!!

  • LotusRapper says:

    This is proper way of eating sushi (not). But it’s funny:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0b75cl4-qRE

    Mijune: yes, I read your Don Guacamole post ….. never been, but I’m curious now !

  • Mijune says:

    @LR – but did you see the part about me saying how La Taqueria and it should have love child with salsas from Dona Cata?.. that’s the part I was referring to that made me think you broke into my blog lol!

  • LotusRapper says:

    Yeah I did, LOL. Great minds think alike 😉

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