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Top 5 at El Rey Mezcal Bar in Toronto


Remember that weekend back in August when the entire city of Toronto crushed through a heat wave? Folks waddling down Yonge Street like dehydrated ducks. Steam bursting off hot skillet fired pavement. Lord knows riding the subway must have felt like sweating helplessly in a crammed Russian sauna.

I spent days locked up at home working away, loitering in air conditioned luxury. One eventually gets stir crazy under these oppressive conditions so decided to pair the city’s hot sticky weather with a Mexican inspired feast at Chef Grant van Gameren’s newest spot to sip and nibble, El Rey Mezcal Bar in Kensington Market.

While perched on a stool overlooking the patio I gently held an ice cold margarita to my forehead as a bead of sweat ran from my eyebrows to the tip of my nose. My companion that evening was Dwayne Evens, a longtime friend of Chef van Gameren who first met each other during the early days of the Black Hoof. The duo developed a fond friendship over their appreciation for organic farming. Over the years they would spend time working in Dwayne’s garden, foraging mushrooms, harvesting milkweeds and fiddleheads and tapping maple trees.

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Today Dwayne works at Urbanlife Realty on Queen West and acts as van Gameren’s go to real estate guy, having recently assisted in the creation of Bar Raval and El Rey.

So why move into Kensington Market? Dwayne has lived in the eclectic hippy hood for 14 years and had been eyeing the El Rey patio location for many years. On suggesting the location to van Gameren, “As most places in Toronto are long and narrow, restaurants and other businesses are limited in the type of layout they can have, but the facade here was the length of a corner building, providing a long, wide patio welcoming pedestrians from Dundas west and south down Kensington Ave.” 

At El Rey you’ll find Julio Guajardo and Kate Chomyshyn running the kitchen and celebrated cocktail creator Owen Walker behind the bar. The bar menu features an evolving lineup of mezcal bottles, categorized by species and annotated with places of origin and tasting notes typical of their terroir. In the hot ass heat of sweltering summer your best bets for a cocktail quench are classic freshly muddled margarita or the Jerseyville Road featuring fresh strawberry, lime and thai basil.

Fans of the feast will find happiness in Julio and Kate’s collection of bar snacks inspired by the culinary traditions of Oaxaca. The duo met in 2003 at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Ottawa and in 2004 moved to Montreal to further their careers. Working around the city at spots like Tuck Shop, Comptoir and Le St. Urbain allowed Julio and Kate to hone their skills. They soon recognized there was a lack of representation for Mexican cuisine and in 2011 founded LA CaTRINA, a paleta company inspired by the popsicles of Julio’s childhood. Julio and Kate travel regularly to Mexico, continuing to research and learn about the country’s varied regional cuisine.

Highlights from Julio and Kate’s pretty plates at El Rey include creamy Wild Mushroom & Cheese Empanada, Nordic Shrimp Ceviche bursting with serious citrus and decadent Boca Negra featuring thick slab of Mexican chocolate topped with a whisper of strawberry mezcal foam and shards of crunchy toasted candied pumpkin seeds.

Here are the Top 5 at El Rey in Toronto:

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Jerseyville Road | altos blanco, strawberry, capo capo, byrrh, lime, soda, thai basil

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Fritos con Salsa | crispy thing with hot sauce

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Wild Mushrooms & Cheese Empanada | roasted garlic and poblano crema

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Nordic Shrimp Ceviche | jicama, cucumber, leche de tigre, avocado puree

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Boca Negra | oaxacan chocolate, strawberry mezcal foam, toasted candied pumpkin seeds

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