Address: 62 Barrette St, Ottawa
Hours: 11:30am – 8:30pm (Tue-Thu); 11:30am – 9pm (Fri); 11am-9pm (Sat); 10am – 3pm (Sun); closed Mondays
One rainy evening after I got off work, my wife and I made our way to try out the tacos at Ola Cocina in Vanier. By the time we arrived, the rain had let up, and we found a dry table under the awning in front of the colourful restaurant.
Their menu is somewhere between authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex, with items from both sides of the geographic/authenticity border, and I was encouraged to see that they use house-made corn tortillas. There are a whopping 15 taco options in total, ranging from familiar ones like al pastor and cochinita pibil, to more fusion-y ones like tandoori chicken and duck confit.
Our best choice seemed to be the taco platters ($19) which give you your choice of three tacos, plus rice and beans, or a salad for an extra dollar. For my taco trifecta, I went with the al pastor, pork belly, and cod, while my wife went with the pulled pork, grilled chicken, and spicy fried chicken, and upgraded to the salad. In our elevated state of hunger, we also got an order of guac and chips ($10) to start things off.
The guac and chips came out in quick order, with a hefty bowl of guacamole surrounded by an equally generous amount of tortilla chips. The guac was creamy, with chunks of avocado strewn throughout for a mix of textures. It had an OK flavour, but was more watery than the fresh guacamole that my wife makes at home. The chips, while plentiful, were definitely in the early stages of staleness, so while palatable for the sake of them not being thrown out, they weren’t exactly pleasant.
After a bit of a wait, our tacos came out and the lone, harried server working both the indoor and outdoor seating asked us if we had gotten sides, which we then informed him of.
Given the small space at Ola Cocina, and the large size of their menu, I doubt they have a spit for their al pastor meat, but it was still my favourite of my three tacos. The meat had a red-orange tint and deep flavour from its achiote marinade, with some char to the meat as well. A nice pineapple salsa, and salsa verde rounded out the flavour profile of the taco quite well.
My pork belly taco was a bit of a mixed bag – the pork was thick cut, with a great crust and good mix of fat and meat, but the pico de gallo and other toppings fell flat on my taste buds.
Fish tacos are a thing unto themselves, with variations like the Baja fish taco having their time in spotlight of hip foods. Ola Cocina’s fish taco is its own creature, with a thick, hard layer of breading on the fish. I had no illusions about the freshness of this fish, and even though I like heavy, crisp breadings on fried foods, this was too thick and unpleasantly hard. The pairing of the mango salsa and pickled red cabbage was small saving grace for this taco.
My rice and beans were cooked well – firm and not grainy, with a good little hit of chili powder.
Of my wife’s tacos, the spicy fried chicken was her favourite – a breaded and fried breast cut into strips, and topped with corn salsa, feta, pickled onions and crème fraiche.
Her salad was perhaps the biggest letdown of the night. While pretty at first glance, what lay beneath was limp lettuce and a pool of liquid at the bottom of the cast iron pan it was served in. I’m not sure if we had the last of a bin of salad, or the extreme heat inside the restaurant was affecting product, but it was unfinishable.
I don’t like to be one to complain about prices, especially for cuisines like this that people expect to be cheap – regardless of quality. However, $10 for guac and chips, and $20 for mostly subpar taco plates that don’t live up to their menu descriptions is nothing but disappointing. Ola Cocina might have a lock on Mexican food in this area, but if they want to compete on a city-wide scale and be destination worthy, they’ve got a long way to go.