Category Archives: Mexican food

Mexican poutine in northern Alberta

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Loaded tater tots, or “Mexican poutine” at Grande Prairie’s El Norteno

Grande Prairie’s El Norteno is certainly the best taco shop in northern Alberta, if not a much wider area. I mean, how can you beat corn tortillas that are rolled out and grilled after you place your order? All the fillings are excellent, especially the fish, enhanced by house-made toppings.

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Owner James Nelson and his made-to-order corn tortillas

But owner James Nelson certainly upped the ante when he suggested we try a plate of tater tots, or as he called them Mexican poutine. Yes, it was deep-fried tater tots, loaded with slaw, cilantro and house-made salsa and guacamole and aioli sauce.

The result was surprisingly fresh tasting and fantastic. We hoovered down a plate, alongside a couple of tacos each.

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The tacos at El Norteno are always excellent

It was so good we made a point of returning on our way back through Grande Prairie. The plate of tots disappeared in about a minute.

Note: Grande Prairie’s food scene continues to get more interesting. In the stall next to El Norteno, at the downtown Farmers’ Market, is Off the Wheaten Path, a gluten-free, vegan kitchen offering bowls, wraps, root veggies, and plant-based pizzas. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open when we passed through. Next time.

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Innovative, healthy stuff at Off the Wheaten Path, next door

El Norteno
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday to Friday 11 am-8 pm, Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
780-978-8093

Off the Wheaten Path
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Wednesday-Thursday 8 am-4 pm, Friday 8 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday to Tuesday
587-343-1848

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Great Mexican Tacos in Grande Prairie, Alberta

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Great fish tacos at El Norteno in Grande Prairie, Alberta

I keep finding great Mexican food in the strangest of places. Like Idaho, home of my two favourite Mexican road-food stops: the incredible one-woman show in tiny Hamer and the fantastic fare at Morenita’s in Idaho Falls.

You can add to that list El Norteno, way up yonder in the northwest Alberta city of Grande Prairie. As an oil and gas/farming centre, GP is well stocked with steakhouses, pizza places and lounges. But tucked inside a downtown farmers’ market is a little stall churning out tacos.

Now, these aren’t just any tacos, but Ensenada Baja-style tacos, which apparently means corn tortillas, batter-fried fish and no lettuce. The most impressive thing for me is that once you place an order, the sole guy running the show grabs a mound of masa harina (corn dough) and runs it through a tortilla press before flipping the resulting disks on the grill. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

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Fresh-pressed corn tortillas with every order

Meanwhile, he’s flash frying basa filets and charbroiling pork loin, which are placed inside the grilled tortillas and topped with onion, cilantro and house-made salsa and guacamole. Good, flavourful stuff.

At about $12 for three, filling tacos, it’s not Mexican food-truck cheap, but still good value for northern Alberta. And yes, the corn tortillas start falling apart as they are crammed into our gaping mouths. But for me, that’s just a sign they’re truly authentic.

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It’s a little one-man show

El Norteno
10032 101 Avenue, Grande Prairie, Alberta
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday-Friday 11 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday
780-832-8093

Spring Road Trip to Tucson, Arizona

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Sonoran Desert landscape in Tucson, Arizona

With winter persisting well into April in Calgary, it was definitely time for a spring road trip to the U.S. southwest and its warming sun. The destination this time was all the way south to Tucson, Arizona—a trip involving plentiful hiking, eating and drinking.

But as they say, the journey is often as important as the destination. So before I delve more deeply into Tucson eats and drinks over the coming weeks, here’s a pictorial sampling of road life on the three-day route down and on the way back.

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Road trip breakfast of chilaquiles at MartAnne’s Burrito Palace in Flagstaff, Arizona

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Early April snowstorm in Flagstaff (elevation 7,000 feet), 2 hours north of Phoenix

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Hanging out with the cool coffee crowd at Lux Central in Phoenix

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Two jumpers in the Wave Cave near Apache Junction, east of Phoenix

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Peeking into the kitchen at Porter’s Cafe in Superior, Arizona

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Open-pit mine south of Superior, Arizona

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Outside Oracle Patio Cafe in Oracle, Arizona

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Chalet Village Motel in Oracle, Arizona

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Aquarium fish at the Desert Museum in Tucson

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Sculpture in Metal Arts Village, Tucson

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Homeward bound: Lunch line at colourful Lone Star Taqueria in Salt Lake City

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Tacos Antojitos Naucalpan in tiny Hamer, Idaho: There’s no place like it

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Run by the incomparable Carmen

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Tesla super charging station in whistlestop Lima, Montana on the I-15

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Hills outside one of my favourite U.S. towns, Dillon, Montana

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Hitchin Post, Melrose, Montana

Lots of Soul in This Bonners Ferry, Idaho Restaurant

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Tracy delivers the love, and the food, at Soulshine in Bonners Ferry, Idaho

There isn’t a strong tradition of ethnic food in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. So, Tracy Truesdell and Josh Sherven decided to spice things up when they opened Soulshine (“Love and Food”), a little, vibrantly coloured joint in the town’s compact, historic downtown. Sampling their burritos, bowls and wraps is like taking a vicarious trip around the world through your taste buds.

Consider the chile verde, featuring Josh’s tomatillo salsa verde recipe from his days in Mexico. I get this flavourful, pungent sauce ladled over whole pinto beans (cooked in house), rice and guacamole. Africa is represented with a banana chutney, Thailand with a peanut-sauce medley and the Middle East with a Marrakesh salad. They’re even considering adding a Swedish pulled-pork dish as an occasional special.

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The chile verde has lots of Mexican kick

Tracy and Josh are a lively, friendly couple, happy to share their scratch-made global cuisine or give me a sample of a not-so-international dish—rich, house-made ice cream.

As I leave, I stare up at the sign over the door. “But where’s the love?”

“It’s in the food,” exclaims Tracy. And in the people.

Soulshine
6428 Kootenai Street, Bonners Ferry, Idaho
Weekdays 9 am-3 pm. Closed weekends
208-597-3326

Finding Marvelous Mavens to Steer Your Road-Trip Eats

At Sleight of Hand Cellars, dynamo Traci is a wealth of dining and drinking suggestions

At Sleight of Hand Cellars, dynamo Traci is a wealth of dining and drinking suggestions

I tend to heavily research my road-trip food stops. I’ll spend hours poring over Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews and Googling for dining nuggets. I end up with a script that guides me for a month of gorging and guzzling over, say, a 5,000-mile swath of the southwest U.S.

But sometimes it’s nice to just follow my nose and, hopefully, discover gems off the beaten path. It helps tremendously, in this regard, to find a local savant or two, with similar sensibilities, who can steer you to some unpublicized standouts.

So when we’ve got three days to spend in Walla Walla, Washington and no agenda to pursue, I’m happy to solicit and accept spontaneous suggestions. These leads come primarily from two winery servers, who are sharp as tacks and more than willing to be impromptu tour guides. Continue reading

Angling for Good, Cheap Mexican Food in Walla Walla

Dora's Deli has a unique combination: Mexcian food and fishing worms

Dora’s Deli has a unique combination: Mexcian food and fishing worms

How can you not like a place that sells Mexican food and worms? Especially when the tortillas for the substantial tacos are hand pressed and the choice of toppings includes lengua (tongue). Continue reading