Fried tilapia, Salvadoran guacamole, and rice and beans. Alistair Henning
10824 97 Street
When we step into Mamenche’s dining room on a crisp October night, it feels like we’re interrupting a post-dinner ritual at a neighbour’s home. Two young men are silently plopped down in front of a flat screen television watching as a soccer match blares on. A middle-aged woman is doing the washing up in the kitchen. We feel almost guilty for dropping by unannounced though to be fair, the hours on the front door promise at least another hour of table service.
Since their quiet launch this April, Mamenche’s, a Latin eatery on 97 Street and 108 Ave, has picked up where Los Comales, which previously occupied the space, left off. True, the menu has shifted further south, from Mexico to Guatemala, but Mamenche’s fills largely the same niche as its predecessor: providing satisfying, homestyle Central American comfort food.
Mamenche is quick to bring us menus. With Corona the only Latin beer available and a non-descript wine menu, we skip the libations and dive right into the long list of appetizers. The pupusas, a Salvadoran specialty of tortillas stuffed with savory fillings and deep fried, immediately catch our eye. Unfortunately, they have run out of cheese, so the Queso con Loroco (cheese with edible flower buds) is not an option. We settle on a pork-only variety instead. After a few audible minutes in the deep fryer, they arrive at the table, warm and crispy. They are soft and earthy, though perhaps a bit greasy.
Our mains arrive 15 minutes later, giving us ample time to absorb the sparse decoration in the tangerine dining room. My dining partner orders Chilaquiles Salvadorenos – tortillas filled with feta cheese, onions, and tomatoes and covered in tomato sauce. I opt for Mamenche’s Special – fried tilapia served with Salvadoran guacamole, and rice and beans.
A few moments after the deep fryer stop sizzling, our dishes arrive on the table. They’re well-plated, aromatic and unfortunately, just a tad too hot to eat. The Chilaquiles are accompanied by a tortilla, a fluffy bed of yellow rice, and a generous helping of Salvadoran guacamole. The guacamole is distinct from other varieties in that in incorporates boiled egg, and is light on other typical seasonings, like chiles, cilantro, or lime. What is prominent is the friendly co-mingling of creamy textures.
My dish is also paired with the tortilla, Salvadoran guacamole, and casamientos – a wonderfully savory and deeply satisfying rice-and-beans dish. The tilapia is a crispy-brown, and not surprisingly, also a bit on the greasy side. It’s a tasty, if simple, take on the fish, but far too much food for one person. I end up sharing much of it with my dining partner, who’s found his Chilaquiles less than entirely filling.
With little room for dessert, we get the welcome news that Mamenche’s has no sweets left to serve us. We settle the bill, which tallies $36 with tip.
While not every flavour sparkled, a few stood out. If nothing else, our recent visit to Mamenche’s Restaurant has prompted me to adjust the menu of my last meal on earth: Goodbye rosemary-garlic polenta, and hello, casamientos.
Those delectable beans, a long list of underexplored dishes, and a cold winter ahead mean Mamenche’s will certainly be on my list of neighbourhood haunts.
Carol lives in Boyle Street.