Playa Cabana

Within 3 short years, the Playa Cabana empire of taquerias has grown to four locations across Toronto. On a busy Friday night, the fiance and I stopped by their original Dupont outpost for a late dinner with a friend. Serving up staple Mexican fare with a non-traditional twist, the menu at Playa Cabana was extensive with plenty of tacos and burritos for every palate.

Atmosphere: As we drove East along Dupont, the stores disappeared and we entered a residential area. Right at the cusp of this change, we spotted Playa Cabana’s lit windows on an otherwise dark street. We arrived 10 minutes before our reservation for 9pm and the place was packed. We didn’t actually get seated until 9:30pm and despite the lateness, there was a constant queue of groups waiting in the small, loud entry way for their reservation time. Walk-in’s were not accommodated. The restaurant itself was small with less than 50 seats and the music was so loud. I was half yelling the entire meal and conversations were difficult. There was a lot of energy in the room, laughs over beer and two birthday celebrations.

Service: Other than the long wait for a table, service at Playa Cabana was pretty standard. Our server came by to take our order and all of the dishes arrived quickly and hot from the kitchen. We had planned on ordering a bucket of Dos Equis but they were out so we went with the other option of Coronas. The beers took awhile to arrive, we were already through most of our appetizers. I would’ve also loved a quick explanation of the 4 sauces on the table, which turned out to be hot sauce and hotter sauces.

Food: Overall, I enjoyed every bite of food at Playa Cabana. The spices were strong, the limes juicy and the cilantro aplenty. That little bottle of green hot sauce was potent and delicious. I ended up demolishing way too many tortilla chips thanks to the fiery concoction.

We started with an order of fresh tortilla chips with salsa and the bucket of shrimp. The chips were crispy, on the salty side and I loved how fresh the salsa tasted. We quickly ate the entire basket and I had moved onto dipping my peeled shrimp in the salsa when we were brought a second basket of chips. It was an exercise in restraint to leave some of the chips and save room for all the tacos we had ordered. The shrimp were cooked shell on, keeping all of the juices and flavour in, then tossed in a arbol-garlic butter. The result was plump, buttery shrimp that had a great kick of heat. I happily ate more than my fair share.

Each order of Taco at Playa Cabana comes in 3s, perfect for our group. We chose four types:

  • Baja Catch of the Day Grilled – This was my favourite, I loved the refreshing light flavours, the crunch from the shredded cabbage and radish topping and the chunky fish.
  • Tacos de Chori-Queso – Homemade spicy chorizo in a crunchy, griddle corn tortilla. Both The Fiance and our friend had a hard time choosing a favourite between this taco and the short rib. The griddled corn tortilla was definitely a treat and the chorizo packed a lot of heat. The flavours were meaty and woke up your tastebuds.
  • Short Rib-Brisket Crispy Taco – Braised beef short also served on a griddled corn tortilla. The brisket was tender and pulled apart with little effort. This taco had a sweeter flavour than the others and wasn’t spicy.
  • Carnita Taco – Pulled pork carnita topped with crispy deep fried pork rind, served in a soft shell. The taco was good, but the weakest link of the night. My favourite part was the pork rind topping.

As always, there was room for churros. The deep fried dough was crisp, golden brown, coated in sugar and served with fresh whipped cream, dulce de leche and ground cinnamon. While I liked the food at Playa Cabana, Friday night was a little too loud and happening for me. I’m looking forward to their patio opening and enjoying their menu with a natural soundtrack.

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