Like a parking spot or a perfectly ripe avocado, finding authentic Mexican food in Vancouver isn’t always easy. And by the time Wednesday rolls around, most folks are yearning for a stiff margarita and a bowl of fresh guacamole.
Eager to wash hump day away with a bunch of tacos and seafood appetizers, we paid a visit to Monarca Cocina Mexicana—Gastown’s newest Mexican restaurant. Located at 181 Carrall Street, it’s the ideal spot for happy hour enthusiasts and those who love a good, old-fashioned fiesta.
Monarca is slightly more expensive than the other Mexican joints in the city but we had to see what the buzz was all about. When going for lunch or dinner, expect to spend around $14 on a margarita, $18 on an appetizer, and $20 to $30 on tacos or another main dish. Its vegetarian options cost less than those with meat.
Upon arriving at the restaurant, across from LOCAL Public Eatery, the casual Wednesday night we had in mind had flown right out the window.
The space was dimly lit, the music was upbeat, and our server was suggesting a few games that would end in a round of tequila shots. While his energy and friendliness was incredibly appreciated, we did have to remind him that it was a work night.
Minutes after ordering our drinks, the restaurant’s signature Monarca margaritas arrived at the table. Each was made with Cuervo Tradicional, Valencia Orange, Curaçao, lime, and garnished with a dried orange slice. The margaritas were refreshing and tangy but better yet, the bartender did not skimp on the tequila.
As for appetizers, we opted for a bowl of guacamole served with corn tortilla chips and a unique creation known as Aguachile Verde Con Fresas ($18.50). Under its name (that we absolutely could not pronounce), ingredients like cured prawns and scallops, avocado, red onion, and strawberries were listed. The fresh seafood starter came in a bowl with jalapeño lime broth.
An appetizer’s job is to get the hungry guest excited for their main course and the two most definitely succeeded.
Shortly after the appies disappeared, the server returned with several plates of tacos—and not the healthy type, the type covered in melted cheese. When you’re three margaritas deep, the last thing you’re looking for is a veggie-heavy meal.
The majority of the group picked the Los De Camarón tacos, which were stuffed with chopped grilled prawn and Oaxaca cheese, served alongside a ramekin of burnt tomatillo salsa. Each taco was folded in half and donned a cheese skirt that would make a grilled cheese sandwich jealous. The three prawn tacos cost $20.50.
The other dish that graced our table was the Los De Ribeye Tacos—three Milpa tortillas filled with AAA beef ribeye, grilled cheese, onion, avocado, salsa verde, and salsa roja.
After dinner, a thick slice of chocolate cake and six forks took the place of our empty taco plates. Despite feeling as if we never needed to eat again, the server convinced us that we shouldn’t leave without having dessert. The cake had a generous—but not too generous—layer of fudge frosting and the centre was moist and spongy.
Despite some difficulty getting out of bed the next morning for work, the salty margaritas, cheesy prawn tacos, and chocolate cake left us with no regrets.