Eldorado Taco opened at 170 Preston Street back in April and has been serving up sophisticated spins on Mexican street food ever since. The restaurant is the first non-pizza concept from owner Anthony Balestra, of the eponymous Anthony’s Pizza.
Brendan Cullen, formerly of Riviera, El Camino, and Fogo Island Inn is at the helm in the kitchen. In his new surroundings in Little Italy, Brendan brings his experience and creativity to bear on an inspired and exceedingly affordable menu at Eldorado.
Everything on offer is priced at $15 or less, with the exception of the charred beef tataki, pictured at left above, which is well worth the investment of $22. In fact, the tataki was my favourite dish across my two visits to Eldorado. Brendan slathers the striploin in the spicy sesame mayo used elsewhere on the menu and flash sears the steak to a perfect char – yielding a mouth-wateringly tender interior. Topped with plenty of chimichurri, brightened by a splash of acidity from apple cider vinegar, this is a dish I could eat every day.
Other dishes I would write home about include: the nacho fresco topped with ahi tuna, any of the three variations of street corn, and both the scallop and ahi tuna ceviches.
While Brendan is plating up masterfully balanced dishes in the kitchen, the decor is decidedly less cohesive. Violently neon green tufted banquettes clash with a pink epoxy floor, a backlit purple bar with a pressed copper bar wall, red booths, damask wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, and a variety of Day of the Dead murals.
It’s A LOT of look. Clearly they were striving for a campy, urban feel but fell short. The lighting is confused and any walls unadorned with wallpaper or murals are a muted grey. Combined with the high ceilings and exposed ductwork, the net effect is one of dining in an industrial warehouse that’s about to host a rave, in the 90s.
While the aesthetics of the bar itself leave something to be desired, the woman behind it is nothing short of exceptional. Quinn Taylor, whom I’ve previously featured on the blog in the lead-up to her win of the Ottawa Finals of the Made With Love cocktail competition, is stirring up her passion for agave spirits throughout her hand-crafted cocktail menu at Eldorado.
Quinn showcases a wide array of tequilas and mezcals on her menu, including in a trio of margarita variants that headline the list. She mixed up the Pineapple Pepper Margarita for me on my last visit. Rimmed with popular Mexican chili seasoning powder, Tajin, this yellow cocktail is as bright as colour as it is in flavour. Made with fresh-pressed pineapple yellow pepper juice, lime, and habañero, the finished product is refreshingly tart, subtly sweet and piquant.
Quinn’s bar program runs the gamut from fabulous over-the-top Tiki like the “U had me at Aloha” (pictured at the top of this post) to the sophisticated and understated “Mazerac” (above). In every instance, the cocktails exceed expectation, thanks to Quinn’s commitment to quality ingredients and deep understanding of how to play with complimentary and contrasting flavours.
The drink options at Eldorado are designed to keep your attention squarely focused on the cocktails, ranging in price from $14 – $17. Aside from cocktails, there are only three kinds of beer on offer, alongside two red and two white wines.
Both Brendan and Quinn look to support other Ottawa businesses wherever possible by sourcing ingredients from local suppliers. The shishito peppers currently on offer are harvested at Rideau Pine Farms. Meat is procured from Luciano’s, just down the street, and they head over to Little Latin America in Chinatown to get their hands on cotija and quest fresco.
Having both worked at El Camino when it opened, Brendan and Quinn are painstaking in their efforts to not crib tasting notes from the food or drink menus of their former employer. They make a conscious effort to present new and different flavour profiles that distinguish their work at Eldorado. In my opinion, they’re succeeding.
The tempura fish taco, pictured above, is certainly unique from its counterpart at El Camino. In this plate, Brendan delivers an airy piece of fish that isn’t overwhelmed by the slaw or spicy sesame mayo. Reach for one of the two hot sauces on the table if you want to add some kick. The green sauce is more mild, comprised of tomatillo, jalapeño, cilantro, and one or two secret ingredients. The red sauce brings the heat with guajillo chiles and habañero peppers.
On the whole, I would strongly recommend you pay a visit to Eldorado Taco. Look past the acid-trip decor and the 8.5″x11″ white paper menus and look forward to the well-priced culinary and cocktail delights that await you.