5190 Victoria Drive, Vancouver BC V5P 1C9
Tucked away on Victoria Drive in the Kensington/Fraserview area, you’ll find a block corner with two Mexican restaurants. It’s a random place for them but then again, Vancouver’s lackluster Latin food scene means that every place is a random place for a Mexican eatery. When I say Mexican eatery, I don’t mean an uber trendy place like Tacofino or La Taquiera. I mean a place where someone’s tía is cooking in the back.
From the moment I stepped into El Caracol Café, I definitely got that vibe. The restaurant is painted with garish colours, showcasing a giant mural of the beach monopolizing one entire wall. The cash register sat at the back atop a crowded counter full of teas, chicharron (fried pork rinds), Mexican sodas, and hot sauces. Kitschy would be an understatement. We waited for a few moments before a woman emerged from the back and seated us in 2 of the 20 seats in the entire restaurant.
There was an old-school TV mounted in the top corner showing clips of Spanish artists performing at concerts. I immediately recognized the voice off the male crooner in the background – it was Romeo Santos, the lead singer of Aventura. If you know them and their music, you’ll know it doesn’t get more authentic Mexican than that.
I started with a horchata because anytime this drink is on a menu, I have to try it. It is a dairy-free, rice based milky drink spiced with cinnamon. This version had cocoa and a hint of vanilla, which was an interesting take. I’m used to the more traditional style but if you’re a chocolate-lover, this might be a pleasant surprise for you (think Mexican Nesquik).
Another thing I always order when they appear on a menu are pupusas, which are basically stuffed cornmeal or corn flour biscuits hailing from El Salvador. These specific pupusas revueltas were filled with fried beans, cheese and pork. My favourite part is when the cheese seeps out of the pupusa and caramelizes – nothing like some crispy queso. One order consisted of 3 palm-sized pupusas which came with the traditional side of curtido (cabbage slaw brined in vinegar) and a choice of red or green salsa.
The other dish we tried was carne asada (aka grilled meat, in this case beef) which was served with rice, refried beans, and salad. The beef was well-seasoned and had a nice flavor. The rice was soft and fluffy, the salad was basic, and the refried beans were cold and underwhelming. It may have come out of a can, but I couldn’t be sure. This meal was definitely disappointing outside of the flavor of the meat. The portion was quite small for the price (it’s no Mi Mexico, that’s for sure).
Other than the pupusas, which were tasty, I wasn’t really into this dining experience. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great – it definitely wasn’t love, but I’ll let Aventura serenade you since he was the best part of my meal.
- Horchata $3
- Pupusas (Order of 3) $10.50
- Carne Asada $12.99