El Sombrero Montreal (Revisited)Posted By Jennifer Ho May 14 2013 · 0 comments · Dining Out
Summer is here. Can you feel it? Of course you can. This isn’t just about the physical element of heat. I’m talking about the mental transformation that seems to take hold of every Montrealer as soon as the snow melts and the weather starts to turn around (think eager, shorts-wearing individuals in March where it’s totally inappropriate weather-wise, but points for bravado). It’s the uncontrollable urge to want to sit outside, have a picnic, ride a bike, drink sangria, eat on a terrasse and lick ice cream constantly. It’s the desire to undertake any one of these activities or all of them, at all times. This post is about enabling you.
One of the city’s best hidden gems is El Sombrero Montreal. It’s a hike up to Jean Talon, but if you’re willing to make the trip, it is so worth it. We’ve been coming here for years and they serve the best Mexican food around, hands down. Interestingly enough, the place has remained a local, low key eatery that seems to be frequented mostly by neighbourhood patrons. The terrasse outside is surrounded by a fence for intimacy and proves to be a nice spot to munch on your tacos and sip on $5 margaritas while enjoying the sunshine and the summer breeze. I would venture to say that it is one of Montreal’s best kept secrets. And here I am, spilling the beans.
The soups here are pretty much all amazing. I really enjoy the crema mexicana. It’s simple, easy and completely vegetarian. Made with tons of black beans, loads of cream and strips of tortilla chips to create a smooth, creamy texture with a bit of crunch, it’s a soup that might become quickly become your favourite too. The tortilla soup is another great classic, incorporating cheese, chicken broth and a good dose of cream. I love the way the cheese melts and becomes stretchy as you pull it out from the bowl in into your mouth. Gives it a bit of chew and lots of character.
The tlalpeno soup is very similar to the tortilla soup but with a much smokier flavour, due to the addition of the chipotle. It leaves a weight on the tongue that’s not unpleasant. Chunks of chicken and rice make this soup a little more filling while a handful of coriander lives up the dish with a pop of color and flavour.
The chicken soup is exactly that – sort of like the Mexican version of ‘traditional’ chicken noodle soup. It’s very simple, made with chunks of white chicken, rice and onions. As you can probably imagine, it’s a light, mild broth – reserve this one for the more conservative palate.
Note that if you’re going to order some of the larger bowls, priced around $9, note that these can be considered meals. We got the mariscos soup once without realizing this and became prematurely full. Don’t get me wrong, it was a really generous soup, filled with all kinds of seafood (shrimps, clams etc.) and a beautiful broth. But, do NOT do this to yourself unless you’re going to commit. You’ll kick yourself later.
The chorizo fondue is packed with loads of cheese. There might even be more cheese than chorizo, actually. Thoroughly interspersed and layered between chopped up bits of Spanish sausage, the dish comes in a small bowl with a couple of hot tortilla tucked underneath. You can eat it plain, just like that with a fork or wrap it with the tortilla, both equally good options.
The tacos campechanos were filled with a ridiculous amount of steak, chorizo and green peppers, all topped with hot, melted cheese. With a couple squirts of lime juice all over, you’re ready to dig in. Does that sound good or what? They covered the tortillas from the center outwards, leaving little plain tortilla in view. Picking a taco up definitively entailed meat falling out of the tortilla in chunks, spilling out onto the plate and on the table, if you’re not careful. A messy one that’s for sure, but nothing wrong with that. Suggested for meat lovers – by the end of this I think we were done with meat for a couple of days.
Looking to try something different, we went for the mole con pollo enchilada, served with a generous dousing of cocoa sauce. That’s right – it contains a hint of chocolate. Contrary to what you may think, it’s not sweet at all. Instead you get this complex flavor that gives off a hint of bittersweetness with a thick sort of mouth feel. There was plenty of chicken folded within the tortilla, flecked with hot peppers throughout, though the heat seemed to take a backseat in this dish. It’s hard to explain clearly exactly what this dish tasted like but it was definitely interesting and worth giving it a shot.
Both the tacos above are filled with your meat of choice and come with sides of chopped onions and coriander for you to sprinkle on top as you choose to. They’re pretty straightforward – we got one plate of tacos filled with chorizo and another with steak. These are good standards to look to if you don’t want anything fancy and just want your tacos straight up.
Funnily enough, the gringa tacos are one of my favourites. The word “gringa” literally translates to foreigner, or North American woman based on the idea that the dark spots that appear on the tortilla when it is heated resemble the freckles seen on on white or “gringa” skin. Also, that these kinds of tacos are preferred in places like the US and Canada, north of the Mexican border. They’re made with pineapples, pork, onions and coriander. Slather on some of that delicious, creamy guac served on the side and each bite just makes you want more. Mm, mm, mm.
If you want to turn up the heat, make sure to ask for their house made hot sauce. A thing of beauty, truly.
If you’re at least two people and you’re not too picky, I would really suggest going with the “Chef’s Special“. You get a good idea of what the menu is like as you get to try a diversified platter of what El Sombrero montreal has to offer – tacos, picaditas, soups, salads, the whole deal. Plus the gringa is included here! The whole menu itself is relatively expansive – you’ll have to go back more than a couple of times to try everything but this is a good introductory starter for sure.
Go ahead and check it out. Thank me later. Cheers!
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