Last week I slipped in to the newly renovated original La Taqueria location for its first service in several months. It was great to be back inside the little package at 322 West Hastings. The tacos were just as I remembered them (confession: I’ve long been a regular) so I won’t bore you with how I wolfed them down, but if they were essentially the same, everything else had changed.
Previously, the first iteration of La Taqueria was a brightly lit, charmingly no-frills day-only operation that catered to a hurried lunch crowd and closed at 5pm. That it is now open deep into the evenings is a big win for those (like me) who enjoy smaller, more intimate establishments for socializing — bouncer-less places where one doesn’t feel rushed or needs to shout in order to carry on a conversation.
As mentioned in a previous piece that detailed the facelift as it was in progress:
The tiled floor is completely new; the cinder block kitchen partition is new; the 10 seat ipe wood bar is new (and gorgeous); the banquette row of deuces is new; the unseen communal table is new; and – most important of all – the night time modus operandi is new.
Instead of just being a little pinche taqueria slinging tasty carnitas and al pastor (we can also expect a few new dishes), the new and improved La Taqueria will stay open late and run a cocktail list some 7-8 drinks deep. Think margaritas, palomas and the like, plus two beers on tap and a few more in bottles.
Though fine and efficiently run as before in the day, the new look shows best at night — especially so from the vantage point of a stool at the candlelit corner bar. From here you can really drink in how the renovations have totally changed the atmosphere, making it much darker, more lively, and just a little bit sexier than how it used to be. For a refresher on what it previously looked like, check out these photos that were taken on opening day back in 2009. The difference is more than just night and day.
The cocktail list is deeper and more interesting than I expected it would be (it’s not just a mezcal smoke show). Execution behind the bar appeared to be quick, and as I inferred up top you can always count on the food. The environment also smells fantastic — think aromas of carnitas, carne asada, tortillas, fresh citrus — which is no surprise considering how the galley kitchen is umbilically connected to the bar.
It really got me thinking how Vancouver needs more cozy, not-too-expensive, fun, unpretentious, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars of 30 seats or less that serve reliably good food and drink (see also: Crowbar, Tempranillo). If their dearth is a consequence of economics, or the slow Donnellization of our nightlife culture, or just a freak accident of omission that could be righted by a few newcomers — I just don’t know why we don’t have more of them.
The new La Taqueria is another step in the direction — one that I hope others will follow.