When it came time for my first review, I struggled to pick one of the many new restaurants around the Beltline. Truthfully, I wandered into the Beltliner to give their dinner menu a try, but to my dismay, it no longer exists! We decided to leave and head one door down to Native Tongues Taqueria which might have been the best decision of the night.
Those who are local fans of luchador wrestling should be aware of what Native Tongues has to offer, as they’ve held a couple of pop up taqueria wrestling nights over the years, and have left the whole city wanting more of their delicious and often obscure ingredients.
When you walk into the space, it feels like you are transported to Mexico. I’m not sure I can do the space justice with my words, so some pictures will have to do.
After we were shown our table, it took a good 10 minutes for anyone to notice we were there. Not the best start to the dinner, but it gave us time to thoroughly examine the menu.
Once the waiter finally noticed us we had to start the night off the right way, I spotted an Anchor Porter on the drink menu, a new favorite beer of mine. However you can’t have Mexican food with a dark porter, you’ve either got to go with a Mexican beer or a margarita, so my decision was made for me.
After one sip of ice cold Pacifico, the night started taking a turn for the better. Ordering at Native Tongues is like most sushi restaurants, scribbling quantities next to what you want to order while the menu stays at the table throughout service. The wait staff deliver the food as it’s prepared and give a nice little description of what’s being served.
Before we discuss the food, let me tell you just how just much work Natives Tongues is putting into each tortilla that hits your table. These guys are practicing full scale nixtamalization, which means they are bringing in fresh corn, soaking it to remove the hull, grinding it to fresh masa and then making each taco by hand. I never thought I would see a restaurant in Calgary pay this much attention to detail, it says a lot about their passion and get’s me very excited about their food!
First up, appetizers!
The guacamole was very well balanced with the creaminess of the avocado complimented nicely by the acid from the lime and freshness of the cilantro. Best of all, you can control the heat with fresh chillies on top. Doesn’t hurt to have fresh handmade chips that are thicker than most chips, so you can dip without worrying about broken chips in the bowl.
I’ve craved this dish once or twice since my initial visit. I am very glad we ordered the Elotes, grilled corn that has a nice char on it and still managed to be super juicy. Another dish that had amazing balance – the richness from the crema, tartness from the queso fresco, freshness from the cilantro and little bit of heat from the dry chillies. I highly recommend squeezing some lime on the corn as it adds brightness and tang. Be warned, there is no graceful way to eat this dish so roll up your sleeves and start devouring this tasty bite!
After the enjoyable appetizers, I was pretty excited for the main course to show up.
The tacos arrived and I had to fight the urge to dig in as soon as they hit the table! After a mini photo shoot at our table, I tasted both salsas to see what we were working with. The salsa verde was light and fresh, with a punch of cilantro and minor hint of chillies. The salsa rojo was quite the opposite, deep rich tomato flavour with a subtle hint of smokiness from chipotle peppers. Neither salsa offered a huge kick of spice and the only option for additional heat was a bottle of Valentina’s. Every taco came standard with raw white onions and cilantro, and the vegetarian options also had queso fresco and crema.
I started with the lengua (beef tongue) with some salsa verde, and while the meat was tender there was a lack of flavour and texture outside of the salsa. Up next was the chorizo con papas, which I loaded up with the rojo. The salsa played perfectly with the spicy chorizo and bite from the fresh onions and cilantro were the perfect compliment to the taco. The third taco was the frijoles (black bean) with a mix of both salsas. The beans were cooked well and still had a bit of a bite to them, while the addition of the crema really rounded out the taco nicely. Last up was the hongas (wild mushroom) with the rojo, another delicious vegetarian taco with deep earthy tones contrasted nicely by the queso and onions. I will add a disclaimer to the last taco, if you don’t like the taste and/or texture of mushrooms, then you should skip this option.
Safe to say after a meal like this, there was no desire to order any dessert but it looks like they have a a few items to please everyone’s palate. Spicy chocolate, tres leche & a light tart option; those that know me are aware which one of these I would lean towards.
Overall, dinner on this evening was a huge success. The combination of decor, atmosphere and food was more than enough to offset the hiccups in service. From a food perspective, I was impressed by the vegetarian options and the attention to detail paid to every dish. However, I was disappointed by the lack of spice available as I typically associate Mexican cuisine with the kick you get from chillies.
Would I return to Native Tongues, most definitely! Truthfully, I’ve already planned a return visit where I hope to try other items on the menu to see if they live up to initial visit. The top bites from this meal, easily the corn appetizer followed closely by the chorizo taco!!
Till next time, adios all!
235 12th Ave. SW
Calgary, AB T2R 1H7