Where to Eat Now: Taqueria La Bonita

I used to look down my nose at Tex-Mex. (Hard taco shells? Salsa in a jar?) In the late 1980s I cooked at a Mexican restaurant that served the typical — enchiladas and such, your choice of filling. Growing tired of the menu, I researched and found recipes for thick, handmade tortillas of masa harina (corn dough). But back then, Ottawa was not ready for any maravillosas ideas, though.

In the 1970s, Mexican food author, Diana Kennedy, opened eyes to Mexican cuisine in her first cookbook The Cuisines of Mexico. Her concepts would take time to digest, but eventually North America’s taste buds would wake up.

In Ottawa, that change is rapidly underway — the proof is in the many Tex-Mex in restaurants throughout the city, in particular by the opening of a second location of Taqueria La Bonita.

The four-year-old Taqueria La Bonita off Ogilvie Road opened their new location early this year, acquiring a Hintonburg space vacated by La Cocina Loca. (Before that, the building housed the second Ola Cocina, a short-lived venture between Ion Aimers and owner of the original Ola Cocina, Donna Chevrier.)

Photo: Angela Gordon

Inside, La Bonita’s got some eye-poppers. Check out the big-screen Mexican movies (psycho-perps! listless femmes fatales!), along with that beautiful mask.

Co-owner Araceli Ortega. Photo: Angela Gordon

Looking to Oaxaca and Michoacaán for its ideas, this taqueria isn’t strictly Tex-Mex (or even Cal-Mex), but any restaurant serving nachos isn’t purely Mexican, either. Don’t expect the sharing plates found at the original La Bonita: the Hintonburg menu is pared down, offering many smalls. Spicy? Benign is the word, although homemade salsas appear on the side. Start with deep-flavoured sopa Azteca, a tomato tortilla soup with pasilla chiles.

Photo: Angela Gordon

Do try the mole. (The Nahuatl word molli, from whence comes the term mole, simply means sauce.) There are myriad variations: green, yellow, and red, for instance. But it’s the well-known mole poblano with chocolate that owner Araceli Ortega and her team makes, using chicken. The sweet flavours work well in quesadillas.

Or try a sope, which is actually not a soup — it’s that masa harina, shaped into a saucer and fried. It is then lined with a base layer of refried black beans, which can be topped with any filling; picadillo (ground beef with guajillo chiles) has rich character, especially good with feta and sour cream.

Photo: Angela Gordon

Unfortunately, the cooking is uneven. Barbequed beef tastes bland, all the juices wrung out, while the cigar-shaped tacos dorados aren’t deep-fried properly (they’re hard, not crispy). However, the complex cochinita pibil, pork Yucatán-style with citrus juices and cinnamon, works in a soft-shell taco. La Corona, a tequila cocktail with mango juice and ginger ale, is certainly a treat. And a dessert, the postre de limón, or lime cream, is sublime.

Snacks and mains $5.75-$23. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

1079 Wellington St. W., 613-798-9292

Photo: Angela Gordon