Restaurant: Grand Electric
Last Visited: March 3, 2013
Location: Toronto, ON (Parkdale)
Address: 1330 Queen St. West
Transit: Queen St West at Brock Ave
Phone: (416) 627-3459
Price Range: $10-20 (Average $15-25/person)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Co-owner/Chef Colin Tooke
- Tacos & Bourbon
- Mexican inspired tacos
- Weekly menus
- Daily specials
- Local favourite
- Long lines/busy
- No split bills
- Cash only
- Budget friendly
- Whiskey selection
- Lunch Mon-Sun 11:30 am – 4 pm
- Dinner Sun- Tues 5:30 pm – midnight
- Dinner Wed-Sat 5:30 pm – 1 am
- Twitter: @grandelectricTO
- Sister to Electric Mud BBQ
**Recommendations: Any of the tacos, but especially the Baja Fish, Pork Tinga, Beef Cheek, and Crispy Cauliflower. The Pozole is a must. I didn’t try the Guacamole & Chips, Ceviche and Key Lime Pie, but they are also popular.
I’m surprised there is even a sign. It’s not a big sign, but at least it is visible. If you miss the sign, not to worry, because you can’t miss the line up, although I did! I knew this place was a big deal, but I didn’t know it was such a big deal that usually it draws a line up at the door before it even opens. It is not rare to wait an hour for a seat, but luckily I came for brunch and there was no line. It was still a full house though, but I happily took a seat at the bar.
I know. Don’t say it, because I will. 10 characteristics of a hipster restaurant? Almost. It only checks off 5 from my list (with a big bold tick), but it compensates in many other ways.
It has the library of bourbon…
… beers few have ever heard of, including Cerveza Monkey, Aqua Loca, Taco Lyfe Pale Ale, and DDC Corne du Diable. I ran the list by Rick (@BCBrews) and he said Dieu du Ciel Corne du Diable is a great one, but the others were foreign to him as well.
And even a house made “Electric Bourbon” which sits ageing in a baby barrel behind the bar. This one really takes the “Portlandia” cake.
All of that was interesting and very exciting for a niche market, but I was here for this! No, not him. Above him! Don’t underestimate the non-descriptive chalkboard menu (only menu in house), it will blow your mind. This was one of my favourite restaurants I visited in Follow Me Foodie to Toronto.
Being a tourist from Vancouver I wasn’t aware of the Grand Electric hype, which could be why I loved it so much. I knew it was named Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Canada by EnRoute Magazine last year, but I didn’t know how crazy locals went for it. After one bite of a taco I could understand why. There are other items as well, but they are known for their tacos which change regularly. I was a bit surprised a taco shop could win such a prestigious award in Canada and I wanted to know why.
These weren’t authentic Mexican tacos or Mexican cuisine, but it was a Mexican inspired menu. The chef isn’t Mexican and everything is apparently cooked on an electric stove top or oven, but Colin Tooke comes from some valuable experience. He has worked at Toronto’s local favourite Black Hoof and staged at Chicago’s infamous taco restaurant Big Star. I didn’t learn this until after trying Grand Electric, but I remember being recommended to try Big Star several times for Follow Me Foodie to Chicago. I didn’t make it a priority because “a taco is just a taco,” but if Grand Electric is any indication of what Big Star tacos are like, then damn, I missed out. Sad face.
On that note, Vancouver has a pretty sad taco/Mexican scene so places like these are still exciting for me. If you’re from California or have tried Big Star in Chicago, then I don’t know how impressed you’ll be. For Vancouverites, Grand Electric has similar characteristics to local favourite La Taqueria (which I like), but to be honest this was on a whole other level. It isn’t like TacoFina Cantina either (which I love), although both offer eclectic tacos.
I started off ordering 3 out of the 5 tacos and a soup, and after the first taco I ordered the remaining 2. I know it is “just a taco,” but they were well thought out, composed, and executed and had the perfect amount of everything. The flavours were well developed and the recipes stellar. I’ve had tacos like this before, but they never tasted as good as this. It was one of those places I could have kept ordering at and I wanted to try their entire menu. I was addicted.
I loved it so much I actually asked the server who the chef was because I wanted to give him the biggest fist pump… just kidding. But seriously, I wanted to know who he was. She told me he came from Black Hoof which was actually on my Follow Me Foodie to Toronto itinerary. I was debating between that and County General as a second brunch, but after trying Grand Electric I was convinced I had to try Black Hoof. I went right after this, otherwise I would have ordered at least 2 more things here.
I have to mention the comments I’ve read about poor service. It was “hipster service”… the negative kind. They don’t pick up the phone, the website is ambiguous, there is a no reservation policy, they make you wait in line, the whole party has to be there before you are seated, the hardcore hip hop can be loud, it’s crowded and tight, the tacos are overrated and overpriced, it is cash only, no debit, no splitting of bills and they make you feel like it’s your honour to be eating there… I’ve read them all, but honestly I didn’t share the same experience, although the service was hit and miss (depending on who served you). The food was good enough that I looked past some of those comments that I could understand, and I actually liked the music and I’m not a hipster.
If I lived in Toronto I would come back 110%. As a local I probably wouldn’t wait more than 15-20 minutes, even though the tacos are amazing, but locals hate line ups. However, if you’re a tourist and have at least 3 days here, than I think it is worth the wait and trek (it is a bit off the beaten path in an upcoming area). I crave their pozole and tacos even a month later.
On the table:
**Pozole – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- $6 (Add an egg $.50)
- I didn’t see the “add an egg” part or I totally would have, although it was absolutely delicious without it too!
- This was so good I almost want to cry. This was perhaps one of the best soups I’ve ever had to date, and I hate saying “best” anything.
- I haven’t had many pozole soups in my lifetime, but this sets the standard very high. It was a burst of flavours!
- Pozole is an authentic Mexican soup or stew made from a rich pork broth, hominy corn, chile ancho peppers, and Guajillo peppers.
- It comes with lots of garnishes including shredded cabbage (or lettuce), radishes, avocados, cilantro, onions, lime wedges and deep fried corn tortillas (Tostadas).
- The corn tortilla chips are basically the “croutons” so you crush them over the soup before eating.
- The recipes and garnishes for pozole are regional and there are 3 kinds of pozole: white, red and green. This was the red (pozole rojo).
- The soup is often enjoyed during festive celebrations or in the winter, but it can also be served throughout the year.
- This was a fancy Pozole soup so not comparable to an authentic version, but the flavours committed and it was amazing!
- It was an incredibly flavourful soup that was sweet, sour, savoury and spicy with many ingredients and textures.
- The garnishes for this pozole included creamy tangy guacamole instead of the more traditional wedges, sliced radish and apples instead of the standard radish, and jalapeños.
- There was also cilantro and maybe even mint leaves for added freshness.
- The condiments were traditional with a couple modern additions which I think made it even better.
- Traditionally the soup is made with pork neck bones and pig’s head, but outside of Mexico and even in Mexico it is commonly made with pork shoulder, pork ribs, and or pork shank (feet).
- This one is served without the bones and possibly only pork shoulder (?) so it was almost like a pulled pork soup.
- The broth is very rich and intense with umami (savoury) flavour and I couldn’t even pinpoint the flavours.
- It was just super savoury, but not salty and the guacamole melted into the hot broth adding a buttery richness.
- It also toned down the spiciness, which wasn’t hot but maybe medium spicy.
- There was lots of lime juice to help balance the richness of the soup.
- The extra squeeze of lime juice just made everything come alive.
- It had lots of hominy corn (large white kernels in photo) which was likely canned or frozen (limited resources for fresh hominy in TO).
- They taste almost like starchy fava beans meets popcorn and they don’t have much of a flavour. It is the “potato” in this soup.
- It wasn’t a super spicy soup, but the spice had depth and layers.
- There were puréed chile ancho peppers, puréed Guajillo peppers and sliced jalapeños, but a good balance of heat and it was not just hot.
- There could have been cumin and cinnamon and other Mexican spices, but it was hard to pick out and just well developed.
- The recipe likely does not have soy sauce, but it would have translated to an Asian palate well. It had savoury soy sauce like flavours in the background.
- It was likely made days in advance to achieve these complex flavours and I wanted another bowl.
**Baja Fish Taco – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
- Look at that! Now THAT is a fish taco! It was a giant strip of fish, so for $3.50 I could see the value.
- This is the most popular taco, which is infamous on the West Coast especially in San Diego, and this East Coast taco joint gave it justice.
- It was a light and crisp fish n’ chip batter topped with a pile of cabbage, cilantro lime yogurt and julienne radish.
- It was beer battered tilapia and it was a bit mushy and bland alone, but the sauces really helped and I wish there was a bit more.
- It wasn’t a greasy fried fish and the batter stayed attached to the fish.
- The cabbage and radish gave it a good crunch to balance the soft fish.
- The cilantro lime sauce was sweet, tangy and a bit spicy.
- The yogurt gave it a nice zip that was lighter and fresher than typical mayo or tartar sauce.
- Together the yogurt and cabbage made for a great cole slaw and it added a freshness to the deep fried fish.
- The brownish salsa-like sauce almost tasted like a barbeque sauce and the base could have been chipotle.
- The soft tortilla shell was only one and it was really just used to pick up the fish.
- I wouldn’t mind some of their excellent guacamole with this, but I would order it again as is.
**Beef Cheek Taco – 5/6 (Excellent!)
- It was beef cheek with caramelized onions, guacamole, green onions and jalapeños.
- I love beef cheek and this one was tender, moist and piled nicely on a single soft tortilla shell.
- The texture was of finely shredded medium-fatty beef brisket and it was savoury, sweet and slightly spicy.
- The beef cheek was expectedly very rich, but not gelatinous.
- The meat was coated in a sweet mole like syrupy sauce with a hint of coffee.
- The mole sauce (?) had sweet spices like all spice or cinnamon and it was very flavourful.
- There were caramelized onions for more sweetness and a creamy rich guacamole.
- The green onions helped balance the richness of the beef cheek a bit, and a squeeze of fresh lime made it even better.
**Crispy Cauliflower Taco – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- This was the only vegetarian taco and it was one of my favourites here.
- It was crispy cauliflower, Soubise sauce, grated cauliflower, pickled jalapeños, cilantro and green onion in a soft taco shell.
- The cauliflower was semi crispy and caramelized and not overcooked and mushy.
- The Soubise sauce was buttery, creamy and rich like guacamole.
- Soubise sauce is a bechamel sauce with the addition of puréed onion.
- The sauce was puréed with green chili so it was sweet, savoury and mildly spicy.
- It was more sweet than spicy and it went beautifully with the lighter toppings.
- The sauce really carried the taco and overall it had meaty texture, bite and flavour.
- I mentioned cauliflower and textures of cauliflower in my Top 10 Food Trends for 2013 and this is exactly the thing I was referring to.
**Pork Tinga Taco – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
- I’m so glad I kept going with the ordering or I would have missed this! I loved this!
- It was a saucy, soppy, Mexican spiced pulled pork topped with sour cream, salsa verde, and cilantro.
- The pork shoulder was melt in my mouth tender and it was quite rich and fatty and full of flavour.
- The marinade was tomato and chipotle based with perhaps some apple cider vinegar and it was sweet, savoury, tangy and a bit spicy.
- I think there was some cinnamon and paprika in the seasoning and there was complexity.
- It tasted like Mexican pulled pork, which is basically what pork tinga is.
- The sour cream added to the richness while giving it a good tang and the salsa verde helped with more acidity.
- It was a beautiful taco and I could taste all the layers making it truly unforgettable.
- Everything was so creamy and rich that I wouldn’t mind this on a hard taco shell instead of the single soft tortilla shell, but I’m not complaining.
Spicy Arbol Chicken Taco – 4/6 (Very good)
- This was by no means a bad taco, but next to everything else it was just very good instead of excellent!
- It was spicy arbol chicken topped with sour cream, salty cotija cheese, pickled red onions and cilantro.
- The cubes of dark meat chicken were tender and moist and marinated in a tomato and arbol chili sauce.
- I could taste some Mexican spices and it was similar to the pork tinga, but spicier although not hot.
- Again there was a good balance of salty and tangy and good texture and acidity from the pickled red onions.
- It was saucy, but not wet and it was more like a taco you may have tried before.
Just a note…I think the Grand Electric is across from Elm Grove Ave. in Parkdale. Not near Denison as stated in the introduction at the beginning beside “Transit.”
@Marianne – thank you!! It’s actually Transit: Queen St West at Brock Ave I think! I’ll edit! 🙂