El Cortez Mexican Kitchen + Tequila Bar. Let's taco 'bout it.
With its eclectic storefront, El Cortez holds promise of providing a unique dining experience. Located just steps away from the main Whyte Ave strip, diners are transported from the drab streets of Edmonton to a hip, colourful, and lively Mexican eatery.
I met up with SC and MZ for a special reunion dinner, since MZ was visiting from Slovakia for a couple of weeks. You can't even imagine the struggle that went into coordinating the dinner since all of our schedules conflicted so much. Being a grown-up is incredibly difficult, but it's nice to know that time and distance doesn't change much. Our evening was almost like grade 10 latin class all over again.
Stepping into the space, you can tell that El Cortez didn't skimp on the interior design. The decor could only be described as a bit overwhelming, a bit disjointed, but a whole lot of amazingness. I mean, what sane restaurant would combine exposed brick with skulls, neon signs, chandeliers and grafitti, and still manage to make it all work? There were so many little touches hidden around every corner, and we couldn't help but look around the restaurant during the entire dinner.
Coincidentally, we had come on Mexican Independence Day, and as an ode to the occasion, El Cortez celebrated by having their happy hour menu available all day (it's usually only available between the hours of 4-6 daily). They also had a mariachi duo on hand to sing and dance, but they were just setting up to perform while we were leaving.
For drinks, SC had the Queens Park Swizzle ($14.00 regular price, not sure about happy hour) which the waitress highly recommended. The three colours resembled the Mexico flag, and reminiscent of a mojito, it had Havana Club 3 year, mint, lime, Angostura, and creole bitters. MZ ordered a margarita ($12.00 regular price) and requested it with a salt rim. The drink had Espolon Reposado, Patron Citronge, and lime. They enjoyed their drinks well enough.
But now, let's talk about the important stuff -- the food! We decided to share an appetizer from the happy hour menu, which had a decent selection of items, most of them priced at $7.50. We chose the guacomole trio ($7.50) which came in three tiny jam jars, each with a different topping. From left to right: bacon, spicy berry, and shrimp.
Their base guacamole was nicely seasoned, and had bites of onion and tomato throughout. The spicy berry wasn't spicy at all, but the berries were juicy and sweet. The shrimp was surprisingly our favourite since it added a nice citrus note, while the the bacon was somewhat of a disappointment. We had high hopes that it would be our favourite out of the three, but overall, it didn't add much to the guacamole and it just reminded us of store-bought bacon bits that you find on salads.
The guacamole also came with a bucket of tortilla chips, and uniquely enough, potato chips. It felt weird to pair regular potato chips with the guacamole, but I guess it's their modern twist on the classic.
SC debated between the Steak Taco "Bulgogi" and the Cinnamon Braised Pork ($15.00) which is what she ended up ordering. The waitress helped her decision by noting that the pork receives more tender loving care during preparation, having been braised until tender. The taco also comes topped with shredded lettuce, pickled onion, chipotle, and cojita. SC thought that the meat was nice and sweet, but unfortunately when I tried a bite of the taco, I had a hit of the jalapeno and couldn't taste much else. But I'll take SC's word for it.
MZ is an Instagram extraordinaire, so she gets credit for this super trendy overhead shot of her fried queso tacos ($14.00) which also comes with mushroom, onion, pepper, beans, and guacamole. It's a good vegetarian option, and even though MZ isn't a vegetarian, she really enjoyed it. I had a bite and couldn't really distinguish any real standout flavour since the cheese was quite mild. All of the ingredients just seemed to blend together quite nicely.
For my choice of taco, I chose the chorizo and patatas ($15.00), or as the waitress simply relayed it back to me, sausage and potato. It was the best choice I could have made, as the chorizo was nicely seasoned and had a nice heat -- not overwhelmingly so, as the cream cheese crema provided contrasting relief. Also of note, the tortillas appeared to be made in house since they were all irregularly shaped. They were grilled so they were nice and warm, and they did the job as the vehicle for bringing the toppings to your mouth (where they rightly belong).
And to end it off, an obligatory shot of their Instagram-famous wall quote -- "Find what you love and let it kill you." Can tacos kill me? I hope not.