With Cinco de Mayo on the horizon, we’re shining this month’s spotlight on Montreal’s tasty Tacos Frida. Serving authentic food at affordable prices, this relaxed, homey bar & eatery has become the neighbourhood’s favourite taqueria. And for good reason.
Their renowned tacos are something to talk about. With fillings like Cochinita (a marinated braised pork with achiote), El Flaco (Oaxaca-style grilled beef), and Nopales (sauteed cactus and pico de gallo), it’s not hard to see why.
How it all began.
Enrique Chan, who owns the restaurant along with his mother, Aurora Morales, and his brother, Hugo Chan, talked about their inspiration for the popular place. “Because there are plenty of Mexican restaurants in Montreal and Canada, we wanted to go closer to our roots in Mexico and make recipes from the Oaxaca region,” Chan says.
They started the project in 2015, after having worked for a Mexican restaurant near Jean-Talon. They found a small place in the St. Henri neighbourhood and started with domestic and non-commercial equipment as they were on a tight budget. Since then, they’ve come to know a lot of people in the neighbourhood, and their popularity just snowballed from there.
A look at what’s on the menu.
At Tacos Frida, they keep it in the family with traditional recipes handed down from generations. “They were all from my mother and my grandmother who helped us via phone. Now I have a solid team of cooks who have adopted my mother’s basic recipes and improved them with ingredients that we were not able to find here.” Chan says.
For the majority of the recipes, Chan explains that they stayed pretty true to the basics of cooking. However, there were some things that were quite impossible to do here versus back home in Mexico. For example, with the cochinita, the traditional recipe involves making a hole in the ground to cook the pork with ingredients like achiote and banana leaves, which are hard to find here. But if they can find those special ingredients, they add them because it gives the dishes their authentic taste.
As for what they would like to improve upon in the future? “Making our own tortillas like in Oaxaca. That would really set us apart from other restaurants here,” Chan explains.
On adapting to the Quebec market.
While it’s important for them to stay true to their roots, some of their dishes can, at times, be a bit complicated. Their Mexican breakfasts, for example, are a little spicier and heavier when compared to traditional Quebec food. But as Chan says, “Well, we’re going to do it and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
Luckily, they’ve been very well-received. Especially on weekend mornings, as there are a lot of Quebec families that come to try classic dishes like chilaquiles and huevos rancheros.
What’s the secret to their success?
In a word: authenticity. Chan says, “We’re always vigilant about what our employees are going to do in the kitchen. There are no specific recipes in grams, no set amounts to make sauces. We cook as if we were at home.”
He also appreciates the opportunity he was given here. After escaping the violence in Mexico for a more peaceful life in Canada, this experience has not been lost on Chan and his family. He wants other immigrants to know that, “Opportunities are all here and you don’t have to be afraid. But you do have to go for it.”
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