In the former home of Wooly Bully’s, a just-off-Whyte Avenue bar that was infamous for fights and overcrowding – to the point where the City of Edmonton had to step in and slap special conditions on the establishment – El Cortez represents a transformation thanks to entrepreneurs Alex Sneazwell and Mike Maxxis.
El Cortez greets you with a mix of Mexican streetwise graffiti (think guns, chihuahuas, crosses and demons) and crystal skulls. It’s got one foot in Mexico, one foot in Los Angeles street culture.
But, even though “Sneazwell” isn’t a Latin name, the chef has managed to channel the Mexican streets into the menu. The tequila cocktails are potent, and you need good food to go with them.
My wife and I share several dishes including the hot buffalo wing cauliflower and the ceviche. The ceviche features grilled corn, albacore tuna and sweet potato; it’s sweet and cool. Meanwhile, the toasted cumin cauliflower carries a kick, and it’s served with a tangy dip that comes, in – you guessed it – a glass skull. Take a bite of each dish, and the ceviche offers a nice contrast to the fiery vegetables. (And, taking a look around, everyone is ordering the cauliflower; it’s at every table around us.)
We also try the tuna taquito, a decadent take on the crispy Mexican dish, with delectable seared tuna at the centre.
The Street Corn Named Desire is a grilled cob served with creme, chilies and lime; and the beef cheek tacos, with crunchy jalapenos, carry a lot of smoky flavour. The taco plates are great for sharing. Trust me, once you try one of those super-potent tequila cocktails, you’re gonna need something to eat or your walk is going to turn into a stumble really quickly. (8230 Gateway Blvd., 780-760-0200, elcortezcantina.com)