I have a general rule about reviewing and writing about any place I go to eat. I have to have been there a minimum of two visits (but usually it’s 3-4 times) before I write about because I want to ensure my experience is consistent and I don’t think it’s fair to act like judge, jury and executioner with an online review like I often see with just one post and only with one visit that can ruin a business. That being said, I have no problem posting even if I’ve only been twice because it’s just that good! El Nahual, is JUST THAT GOOD. I was there on Tuesday and Saturday; I’d go if it was open on Sundays, but sadly it’s not.
Last week Netflix released David Chang’s Ugly Delicious and it was perfect for those of us who like to combine winter hibernating with staying in and Netflix-ing (and chill!?). This documentary isn’t just Food Pr0nz, it’s deeper than that. I know, you’re thinking “wtf kind of food documentary is deep(ish)?!”. Well, it delves into the history or origins of certain types of food; a few episodes deal with racism; other episodes deal with standards/rules or governing bodies/institutions of certain types of food; as well as perceptions surrounding different types of food in different regions and the creation of fusions and the rejection or welcoming adoption of said fusions. Some of the Food covered in episodes were Pizza, Tacos, and Fried Chicken. Coincidence/Confession: these things are a few of my favourite things =P lol.
In one of my group chats, my friend Magoo (not his real name) had also been watching Ugly Delicious too and there was some talk of tacos. This resulted in a taco crawl with friends that took place half of last week. On Sunday we had gone to MexiTaco. On Monday we went to Playa Cabana. On Tuesday we chose El Nahual last minute and few of us headed over there.
Located in a small, inconspicuous corner of a plaza in York, El Nahual is on Keele and south of the 401 and has been open since the fall of 2016 according to the owner.
This tiny taqueria is more of a take-out place or eat quickly & go, rather than formal dining in; there is no wait staff as it is usually a staff of 3 made up of a cashier, the chef/owner and another cook.
It’s got rustic decor with seating for 8 people in a bar-style set up of 4 concrete stools by the window and 4 near the cash/order counter.
El Nahual gets pretty busy at peak meal times and can seem packed when you first walk in. However, it’s 50 percent ordering their meals to go, and the other 50 % waiting about 10 minutes for their meals and then spending another 10 to scarf down the delicious creations the kitchen has plated on a small aluminium pan with black parchment paper. Like Ramen, tacos are a meal eaten quickly; people don’t really graze over tacos as they can be consumed in a few bites; how quickly those bites are taken depends on how hangry one is. So if you happen to go there and plan to eat there, I wouldn’t worry too much if you walked in and there isn’t much seating for your party.
I did mention above that wait times for your food from when you order to completion is about ten minutes, some people may not be happy about that but this isn’t McDonald’s or some pizza place where you the food has been sitting in the glass display for hours only to be re-warmed when you order. I myself don’t mind as I can see the owner, Luis making fresh tortillas for the tacos’ I ordered or mixing up some fresh batter for our fish tacos. I will gladly wait patiently for my order because I know it is being made fresh and can watch them making it if I walk over to the counter.
Google, Yelp, Trip advisor and others all have El Nahual at a 5 out of 5 rating and I was delightfully surprised and realized all the reviews had it right. The food both times I went was awesome. Other than the fact the food was freshly made, you can tell that the owner Luis does have a passion and it shines through in his food. I read that his mother taught him these recipes that are now dishes at his restaurant. This isn’t quite your ma & pa shop or a dine-in restaurant. It’s a combo of the two which is a local business that’s more catered to take-out with a fancier taco that will satisfy the gourmand in you, when you don’t have alot time or don’t want to deal with the wait time of being served (and tipping). Sometimes we’re hungry and don’t want fluff or fanciness to reckon with.
On Saturday, I saw a post on Instagram & their facebook page for a Surf & Turf taco which was the Chef’s special. I was super excited as I was going there for lunch anyways because I was going to be in the neighbourhood.
I got there at 1:45pm and noticed they were out of Horcata, even though they opened at 1:00. Luis (the owner) said sometimes the Guava sells out first, but each day is different. There were 8 people there and they were split into 2 groups but they were leaving and cleared out after I ordered and waited for my food. Another 5 people came in and 3 of those ended up being take-out orders. So as I said, it gets pretty busy although half of the people are not staying and just ordering take out.
The first time I came I ordered 3 tacos for $12 and had the Barbacoa, the Black Tiger Shrimp and the Fish Tacos. 3 may seem like not that many, but they were very filling.
The second time I came I ordered the 3 tacos and this time I chose the Chicken Mole, the Al Pastor and again the Fish taco which is my fave. I also ordered the Surf & Turf special which was $6.75. It was ALOT of food as the Surf and Turf were layered with Crispy Cheese, Steak, Chorizo and Tiger Shrimp.
If I knew how big it was I would have probably stuck to the Surf & Turf and just added a Fish taco ($4.50 for a single regular taco). Luis said that the Surf & Turf was only available on the weekend and just something new he was trying out to see if it should become a regular menu item, so naturally, I had to try it knowing that it may not be there the next time I was back. Luis explained that all the items with the * (star) next to it were newer items that he said were popular so he eventually added them on as regular menu items.
I did love the Surf & Turf, it’s got a lot going on but it works. Luis did ask me for my feedback and I told him that it is HUGE and very filling. I gave him some input like possibly making the tortilla bigger to hold all the contents and some other ideas. I did say, earlier that Luis does have a passion which shines through in the food and this is why he was interested in making it better and open to suggestions and feedback I had. I don’t find most chefs or restaurant owners ever all that curious to see what their customers really think and often times there’s a silent code, that you cannot offer suggestions as it may be taken as criticism.
My ranking of El Nahual’s tacos are as follows:
1) FISH TACO-it’s got a perfect crunch to the batter and delicate cod that flakes nicely when you bite into it. The Cilantro, cabbage slaw and Cilantro aioli give it nice texture and flavouring.
2) SURF & TURF-it’s got a lot going on, but it works. It’s for one of those days you feel like saying “I’ll take one of everything!” and when you’re extremely hangry. I’m curious to see if Luis takes my feedback. If he does it might be my new favourite. The different meats give a flavourful mouthful with every bite as well as providing texture.
3) TIGER SHRIMP-it’s got really large tiger shrimp perfectly cooked so it’s delicate when you bite into it. The amount of shrimp may not seem like a lot, but they are rather large and perfectly sized for the tortilla which has a crispy cheese crust. Any more shrimp, and you’d be losing a slippery sucker that would most likely slip out and land on the floor instead of ending up in your mouth. Again, at first I thought there wouldn’t be enough shrimp, but it surprisingly filled me up.
The last three are tied and they are all meat; pork, beef and chicken. It’s very hard to choose as they are all so different but were all very good. For you, it might come down to a personal choice of what type of meat you like or what types of flavours and marinade you like.
AL PASTOR-In Ugly Delicious, they talk about the origins of Al Pastor being a fusion food as Lebanese Immigrants began grilling pork on the spit style method, like shawarma, gyros or doner kebabs. I don’t know if Luis was doing the same as I didn’t see a spit, but the meat was very moist and marinated. The perfectly grilled pineapple with its char marks turns the taco into something beautiful to look at as well as a delicious burst of flavour (sweetness and a little tartness) that compliments the perfectly marinated pork.
BARBACOA-the meat was super moist and well seasoned which can be a challenge with beef as can dry out quickly. The Barbacoa was perfectly pulled as in the pieces were all uniform. I like my pulled meat to be identical for each bite in the sense, that one bite does not differ from the other and you aren’t getting huge chunks of meat in one bite because it wasn’t shredded properly. I did really enjoy this taco, but the beautifully grilled pineapple ties the Al Pastor with the Barbacoa as well as the crazy delicious flavour of the Mole Sauce for the Chicken. (See next contestant below).
Chicken Mole-this meat was so deliciously flavoured and moist. I can’t even describe the flavour? There’s chocolate, but it’s not sweet, it just gives depth. What the hell does that mean? Why am I using nerdy ass food critic words that are obscure and don’t really mean anything? I don’t know, I guess I’m inspired and just trying to find a way to describe something that is so hard to put into words. Just go try it. It’s rich and delicious and was probably my favourite marinade for all the meats I tasted. But like I said above, each of the other two brings out different elements that make them great that brought me to the conclusion it was a tie.
You really can’t go wrong with any of those. I have yet to try the Carnitas, the Chorizo, the Veggie, the Yucatan Chicken and the regular Sirloin (I had sirloin in the Surf & Turf, but not by itself). But will update this post when I do.
All in all, this is a sweet little Taqueria, and now my new favourite place. It’s not close to me, but I would gladly make the drive to go eat there again and again. Sadly it was closed today (Sunday) but luckily it’s open again tomorrow. I would say go with a friend or two and maybe have an “I’ll take one of everything moment” but it gets hard trying to split a 4-inch taco. You’ll probably just end up going multiple times like I have in a week because it IS JUST THAT GOOD and maybe we’ll even see each other there. lol.
Magoo’s TLDR: El Nahual,delicious tacos, everyone must go
1993 Keele Street
York, ON M6M 3Y3