Si Senor Mexican Street Food
Address: 506 Rideau St, Ottawa
Hours: 12 – 9pm (Tue – Thu); 12pm – midnight (Fri – Sat); 12 – 4pm (Sun); closed Monday
Possibly the best thing about Rideau Street as it currently exists is that it’s a great incubator for mom and pop restaurants with cuisine from all over the world. Take a stroll (or just check it out on Google Maps) and you’ll find authentic food from Korea, India, Hong Kong, Mexico, and more! The latter was my target, and Si Senor was the purveyor.
Si Senor just opened this spring (aka extended winter) and specializes in Mexican street food. You’ll find familiar items like tacos and burritos, and also less common (at least in Ottawa) options like pozole, huaraches, and tortas. I had mistakenly thought that tortas were the Tuesday special, but it was actually Thursdays when they’re discounted. However, this meant that I ended up arriving on Taco Tuesday ($3 each!), which is a pretty damn good consolation prize.
There’s a good selection of proteins for the tacos, but not so many that it would make you question their quality. All of the big names are here – carnitas, carne asada, al pastor, chorizo, cochinita pibil, tinga de pollo, and vegetable al pastor. Being the growing boy that I am, and the fantastic deal that was on, I went for the four pork and beef tacos.
I took a seat by the window, and over the course of my short wait, took in the colours of the bright restaurant, as well as the funky wall décor.
Si Senor’s tacos are truly street food-style, with no frills other than what’s available at the self-service toppings bar – diced white onion, cilantro, pico de gallo and lime wedges. I really like this format because while I like cilantro, I don’t want a handful on each taco. It’s powerful stuff, and way too many restaurants overwhelm their tacos with fistfuls of the leafy herb.
I started off my taco feast (fiesta?) with the carnitas. Si Senor marinates their pork in orange juice and seasonings overnight before roasting and shredding the meat, and dedication to the process shines through. There’s a lot of pulled pork out there, but not much of it is this good – incredibly moist without being mushy, with bright pops of flavour from the marinade that make themselves known without overpowering the pork itself.
The chorizo was comprised of rough bits of sausage meat that were finished on a grill, which gave the orange-hued pieces of meat a nice little char. Topped with the onion, cilantro and a squirt of lime juice, and it was a lot of goodness in one little taco.
While the strips of grilled steak that were in the carne asada had a great beef flavour, they were a little on the overcooked side of the spectrum.
Last but not least was the al pastor taco, which Si Senor gives top billing in their list of fillings and refers to as the “King of Tacos”. The meat was as orange-red as the chorizo, having been marinated in annatto and peppers, and had also received some love from the grill. The rich flavours of the meat played well off the sweet hunks of pineapple, and combined with the other toppings, it’s easy to see why this taco is king.
While this small restaurant likely does a lot of takeout, it was nice to get served on proper plates and not disposable.
My return visit on the actual torta deal day was once again during a quiet mid-afternoon lull, and the friendly owner was manning both the cash and the grill.
The torta options are basically the same as those of tacos, and I ordered a carnitas torta to eat in, and a cochinita pibil to take home to my wife. Paired with my favourite Jarritos (mango), the bill was still well under $20 after tip.
It was just minutes before I had my sandwich, and I instantly knew that this was going to be a multiple-napkin ordeal. The grilled bread wasn’t hefty enough to stand up to the pork and refried beans within, and the bottom slice was showing signs of collapse already. I went into full attack mode.
I don’t know if the carnitas here is prepared in the traditional way, essentially confit-ed in oil or lard, but it was incredibly tender and juicy. The irregular chunks it was chopped into made it feel more substantial than a pulled meat, and the fatty pieces just melted in my mouth.
The refried beans added their hearty flavour, while some shredded mozza helped hold the contents of the torta together.
Shredded lettuce brought a little crunch to the show, but between the warm ingredients and being finished in the plancha, it never really stood a chance. What really would have added some texture – and have upped the pork factor at the same time – would be the addition of chicharrones, aka fried pork rinds
All told, it was a delicious sandwich, but with an upgrade to the bread, and some other minor tweaks, Si Senor’s torta could be one of the top sandwiches in the city.
While they’ve got great daily deals, Si Senor’s food is a good idea any day of the week.