Alejandra Lopez and Antonio Bueno decided to take matters into their own hands when they couldn’t find a suitable restaurant representation of paella or tacos.
Lopez, who hails from Guadalajara in western Mexico, and Bueno, who grew up in the Andalusia region of Spain, decided to open Patio Andaluz, a Mexican-Spanish dining room in Port Dalhousie, specializing in the quintessential dishes of their homeland.
But it came after years of eating others’ spins on those recipes in and around Toronto where the couple lived for 13 years after immigrating to Canada, and leaving the table wanting.
“Tacos as a concept are tortillas with filling. You’ll find ours are traditional,” Lopez said. “People will make tacos with different ingredients and that’s OK. But sometimes you want a taste of home. I could never find a place where I could say ‘This is a taste of home; this is just like Mexico.’ I was always disappointed that our heritage wasn’t being represented in a culinary aspect.”
It is now, however, at Patio Andaluz. The couple, who have extensive restaurant experience, opened their cosy Lock Street eatery last year in a quest to provide proper tacos and shine a light on paella, the rice dish that’s one of Spain’s best-known culinary exports.
Doing that, though, means not taking shortcuts in the kitchen. So in the case of Patio Andaluz’s signature paella, which serves two, that means nothing hits the pan until an order comes in for any one of the three types they offer.
It can take up to 45 minutes to make the Paella Valencia with chicken, the seafood-filled Paella de Mariscos, or the vegetarian version, Paella de Verduras, which Lopez admits is an exercise in patience for some diners. But the wait is worth it when the result is nothing short of what’s served on the other side of the Atlantic.
“We don’t want to change it. From a business perspective, we should, but we wanted to do it the way we do it for us at home or for our friends,” she said. “It’s been a challenge but we take much pride in what we do in terms of the cooking we do. We call it comfort food because it’s authentic.”
That MO of keeping things real in the kitchen extends to Lopez’s beloved tacos, too. The Tacos Baja, for example, are a nod to the Cal-Mex fish taco from the Baja Peninsula. The tacos al pastor honour the marinated pork tacos known throughout Mexico but with different regional variations, such as cooking the meat with pineapple as they do in Guadalajara. There are also the beefy tacos de asada, tacos charros filled with chicken, and tacos veganos filled with plant-based chorizo and refried beans so no plant-based eater misses out.
All the salsas topping those tacos are made daily in small batches, ensuring the freshness synonymous with true Mexican cooking.
The Patio Andaluz menu is rounded out with tapas served on larger plates specifically for sharing, including classic Papas Bravas, those cubed potatoes blanketed with salsa brava, and Tia Susi’s white clams with white wine sauce, a menu contribution from Bueno’s Aunt Susi in Spain.
Combined, Patio Andaluz’s dishes are calling cards for locals but also for diners, including Spanish and Mexican families from Hamilton and Toronto seeking flavours that aren’t easy to find beyond Spain and Mexico’s borders.
“This tells us we’re on the right track,” Lopez said. “They say ‘Now we know where to get paella. Having people from our home countries say this is where we can get food make us so proud and happy. It’s a pleasure when someone comes to the restaurant and they try (the food). It’s wonderful to see their faces change and they leave happy.”