Playa Cabana Cantina
2883 Dundas St. W.
After success in the Annex with Playa Cabana, Dave Sidhu turned his wagons a few blocks west to the Junction to open up Playa Cabana Cantina, a laissez-faire Mexican resto with an oyster bar and at least 50 different kinds of tequila (a number that will grow in the coming weeks). Since it opened two short weeks ago, Junctionites have celebrated the bar as an addition to the comparative embarrassment of boozy riches they now enjoy after a nearly century-long ban on hooch in the area. With its stiff and fruity cocktails and late-night taco kitchen, Playa Cabana Cantina makes a trip to the Junction worth it for outsiders too.
The Vibe: A Yorkville native himself, Sidhu looked for Junction help, when he could, to decorate the cantina: reclaimed wood from Martin Scott’s Forever Interiors makes up the tables and booths. But it would be the highway signage that gives the Playa Cabana Cantina its fun, southwestern, Route 66-style kitsch. Note the hot pink neon letters spelling “liquor” over the bar, on which you’ll find an antique American licence plate demanding prohibition continue to be enforced (Sidhu calls it a nod to the history of the neighbourhood). Toward the kitchen, find a sign marking Interstate 5, which runs the entire length of California. On the opposite wall, find a giant letter E that Sidhu got his hands on after it was taken from the top of the Yellow Pages building in Detroit. Salsa music and Latin pop is on heavy rotation here.
The Drinks: Sidhu gave bar head Casey Fiorio a free hand to create the drinks list and he’s out to show people that tequila isn’t just something to shoot five pints into your Saturday night rager. Expect many of the cocktails to be tequila-based, such as the Pink Carnation: based off a scene from the movie Midnight Run, it features El Jimador Reposado, lavender syrup, lime juice, lavender flower water and egg white ($ 9). Also try Round Here We Call That Sheer (Tromba Blanco, Martini Rosso, hibiscus flower water, cucumber, pineapple and ginger beer served with plenty of ice in a jar, $ 14). When you get here, ask for the story behind the punchy C on the R with a Side of B (Los Arango Reposado, Campari and Martini Rosso, $ 12). Dos Equis is on draught here at $ 6.50. Groups can opt for the margarita pitchers; such as the T.O. Cointreau (Tromba, Cointreau and lime, $ 45). Nursing a hangover? Try the Michelada (Cholula sauce, celery bitters, clamato, Worcestershire sauce and Dos Equis beer, rimmed with salt, $ 8) with the Huevos Rancheros plate.
The food: The aforementioned meal (three eggs, Spanish and Mexican chorizo, rice and a choice of beans, tortilla and cheese, $ 14) flies out of the kitchen frequently, notes Sidhu. So do the oysters at $ 2 a shuck and the Spicy Enmoladas with either chicken tinga, ancho-braised steak barbacoa, pork carnitas, ground beef or veggies ($ 16).
Dress code: Casual
Must know: The late night taco menu kicks in after midnight (three for $ 12 and features fish, chicken, pork or beef).