Los Cuervos brings tacos and Mexican cantina cool to Mount Pleasant

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      Five years ago, Les Faux Bourgeois opened facing a little triangular block near Kingsway and Fraser Street, and Mount Pleasant residents fell in love. Since then, the popular French bistro has been joined by a handful of other trendy storefronts including Matchstick Coffee Roasters and the Gluten Free Epicurean. And in August, Faux Bo welcomed a new Mexican sibling a few doors down: Los Cuervos Taqueria & Cantina.

      For Los Cuervos, Faux Bo partners Andreas Seppelt and Stephan Gagnon teamed up with a new partner: chef Gilles L’Heureux, who has been cooking at Faux Bo since it opened. The trio revamped the old Che Baba space. While they retained the Gaudí-esque sweeping curves, they added some Mexican flair. Bold yellow and blue accent the walls, and a vibrant mosaic brightens the length of the bar. A round pillar anchors the room, and its pale blue colour extends to the swirling ceiling, creating a sort of under-the-sea feeling. At the far end of the room, Gagnon has carved a striking negative-image portrait into a black metal door, depicting Pedro Infante, an actor and singer from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. It all adds up to an easy, laid-back vibe—the restaurant is stylish but comfortable, without taking itself too seriously.

      The bar curves gently to face the open kitchen, where L’Heureux’s team cooks everything to order on the flat-top grill. Before his Faux Bo days, the chef spent over five years living and working in Mexico City, and the inspiration for Los Cuervos’s menu comes from that city’s street food and cantinas. (Los Cuervos means “the Crows”, a name that was inspired by East Vancouver’s association with these birds.) With the exception of the corn and flour tortillas, L’Heureux makes everything in-house, including the three kinds of salsa brought to the table in squeeze bottles.

      The straightforward menu includes 10 varieties of taco (most of them $3.50 each) and a handful of tostadas ($5 each). There’s also a daily quesadilla and crispy duck-and-sweet-potato flautas. Unlike many taquerías in Vancouver, Los Cuervos doesn’t build its tacos on palm-sized, double-layered tortillas; instead, they use a single corn tortilla that’s larger, at six inches. Our server recommended that we order three to four per person for a full meal.

      I love that the menu caters to hard-core carnivores and plant-eaters alike, with attractive taco options in both categories. On the meaty front, there’s the classic Lomo Cantinero, a slow-roasted pork shoulder with a pineapple pico de gallo that gives a nod to the el pastor tacos of Mexico City. The Alambre stands out, with bacon adding a smoky kick to chunks of bison skirt steak mingling with onions and peppers. Another good option is the Choriqueso, which features L’Heureux’s house-made chorizo sausage.

      If you have the opportunity to try the Lengua Verde, snap it up. This taco was the evening’s special the night I dined, filled with tender chunks of braised veal tongue in a zippy tomatillo salsa. Give tongue a chance! It’s mild, with a pleasingly soft texture, like slow-braised pork belly; this taco was so good I ordered another.

      I could have also had seconds of the other special that evening, a crispy tostada draped in house-cured sockeye salmon. Laced with crema and salty fried capers, the open-faced tortilla was a perfect West Coast take on a Latin American snack.

      For a veggie focus, try the Aguacate. Lightly battered and deep-fried, a wedge of warm avocado makes a soft contrast to crunchy jicama slaw and corn-and-black-bean salsa. Another vegetarian creation, the Hongos, is a contender for the best taco, period—whether you’re a vegetarian or not. Filled with a tangle of mushrooms (oyster, chanterelle, hon shimeji, and more), it showcases the earthy Huitlacoche sauce, which is made from the corn fungus of the same name.

      In a follow-up phone interview, L’Heureux explained that he can source huitlacoche (also known as “corn smut”) in Vancouver, as well as the sauce’s unique epazote herb. But finding some Mexican ingredients here still isn’t easy, so he’s no slave to authenticity, using feta instead of the inferior-quality Mexican cheese that he can get here. And he has no qualms about featuring nontraditional local ingredients like the hon shimeji mushrooms, if they make a good taco. “You’d be a fool to overlook the bounty of produce here,” he says.

      The dessert menu is simple—churros with chocolate sauce or cajeta, a sweetened, caramelized milk syrup. Drinks focus on hand-shaken margaritas served without fanfare in a simple lowball glass. I found the cucumber and mint margarita to be too spa-refresher subtle. The bracing sage suero is a better choice, made with mountain sage tea, agave syrup, soda, lime, and a kick of tequila. Los Cuervos stocks Centinela tequila as well as mescal and, of course, cervezas—both Mexican and local, including R & B lager.

      Dinner for two, with a cocktail each, came to $47.50 before tax and tip.