Toronto’s iconic Restaurant Row is famed for its vibrant, historic and varied eateries, which uphold a certain calibre of quality dining while remaining approachable for everyone. Each establishment on Restaurant Row is itself emblematic of the city’s culture and reflective of its diverse origins, showcasing creativity and generating buzz with some of Toronto’s best food. If you don’t believe us, you haven’t eaten at Pancho y Emiliano or N’awlins Jazz Bar.
Pancho y Emiliano offers authentic north to south regional Mexican meals and artisanal cocktails. N’awlins brings a unique blend of Cajun-Creole and Italian fare served in the ambiance of live jazz music every night of the week. We’re telling you – these spots are lively! Plus, if you’re going out to the theatre, the location couldn’t be more perfect for a bite before or after the show, especially if you want to keep up the excitement (we are the Toronto Entertainment District after all).
While there are ample options along Restaurant Row (and we think you should try them all), Pancho y Emiliano and N’awlins Jazz Bar are the embodiment of what’s so exciting and unique about the district. There’s no time like the present, so here’s why these two spots should be your new go-tos.
Pancho y Emiliano
Named after the two pillars of the Mexican Revolution, Toronto’s Pancho y Emiliano restaurant lives up to its name. According to executive chef and co-owner Serena Hernandez – who is from Oaxaca, Mexico – the idea here is “to have a revolution about food.” In a city teeming with seemingly endless options for American-style Mexican fast food (we’re not judging, we know it’s delicious), Pancho y Emiliano shines as an emblem of authenticity. Chef Hernandez brings artisanal cooking methods to showcasing the best of Mexico’s traditional cuisine, from mezcal to mojitos. Hernandez also adjusts her technique as needed to accommodate people with dietary restrictions – without sacrificing taste, quality or variety – so everyone can enjoy.
Since we’re talking about authentic Mexican cuisine, we have to talk about the restaurant’s tacos: Baja fish, Chorizo, Hongos al Pastor, Grilled Shrimp, Carne Asada and Carnitas, and many more. Each is handmade and served by the unit, so you can go wild and try them all (it would be hard not to)!
The menu at Pancho y Emiliano also features dishes from various states within Mexico, with regional dishes from the north and south. Made from scratch, these plates are certainly every foodie’s dream – and certainly challenging to find elsewhere in the city.
“I think this is a very good opportunity to try authentic Mexican food without going to Mexico. Here you can have all of them, and that is something we are very proud to offer.”
– Serena Hernandez, executive chef and co-owner
If you’re going for Enmoladas, the first choice is three handmade corn tortillas filled with tender pulled chicken, topped with in-house Mexican Mole sauce, spiked with chillies, seeds, nuts and a hint of chocolate. You can also opt for the Enmolades Verdes, which is three corn tortillas filled with tender pulled chicken, and topped with light, fresh-tasting Mole Verdes Sauce. This one is also made with a delicious combination of seeds, tomatillo, chillies and aromatic green herbs!
Fun fact: the Mole sauce is made in-house which is virtually unheard. This should come as no surprise when you learn Pancho y Emiliano’s recipe contains a whopping 36 ingredients – clearly, it’s not a dish one simply whips up, and requires the hand of a true culinary expert.
The delectable menu only gets better from there. One of the highlights is the Tikin – Xic Fish Catch of the day, which is either red snapper or tilapia fillet marinated with sour orange and annatto seeds and comes with spinach salad and corn truffle rice. There are plenty of other appetizers and mains, soups, salads, and of course, everyone’s favourite Mexican dessert – churros! At Pancho y Emiliano, they’re served perfectly with dulce de leche drizzle, fresh, seasonal berries and crushed chocolate candy.
Hand-crafted Mexican cocktails are a highly recommended side for any dish on the menu. Pancho y Emiliano makes incredible Mexican classics like margaritas and mojitos and offers an extensive selection of artisanal Mezcal drinks (Pancho y Emiliano pairs the spirit with mouthwatering, refreshing flavours like pineapple, agave and lavender). Finally, for those traditional cocktail lovers, Pancho y Emiliano is an expert at making all your favourites too, from the Manhattan to the Caesar, or the Old Fashioned to Tom Collins.
N’awlins Jazz Bar
Calling music lovers! Located two doors over, N’awlins Jazz Bar is an adventure to a different part of North America and a whole new culinary world. The King Street establishment is one of the most enduring landmarks in the whole Entertainment District. For 26 years, N’awlins Jazz Bar has brought the best of Italian and Cajun-Creole cuisine.
N’awlins Jazz Bar rests in the heart of the theatre district, making it another ideal spot for a bite if you’re seeing a show at the nearby Princess of Wales or Royal Alexandra Theatres. It’s also an entertainment destination on its own, offering a continuation of daily in-house live entertainment, with new bands every night and performances from award-winning jazz musicians. It’s a dream for anyone who loves theatre, music, or simply good food.
“Throughout the week we have other jazz artists that have won Juno Awards. We’ve got Grammy Award-winners in here. Every night of the week has something special going on.”
– Ashley Tollis, general manager
On the menu, you’ll find classic spicy Cajun dishes like Gumbo Soup (Andouille sausage, chicken and vegetables with rice) and Jambalaya (Andouille sausage, shrimp, chicken and peppers). Of course, there are plenty of milder yet equally flavourful options too. Some of its most popular dishes include the seafood medley (blackened calamari, shrimp and scallops with jambalaya, grilled red peppers and a butter poached lobster tail) and blackened steak (12 oz. AAA steak with mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables). If you’re feeling fancy, you can also add a 4 oz. lobster tail.
We’re convinced you’ll be star struck by the fare at N’awlins, but for those interested in soaking up the musical acts, here’s the talent roster:
- Juno Award-winning jazz composer and pianist Stacie McGregor – Tuesdays, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
- Nothin’ but the Blues featuring Joe Bowden, and a selection of Toronto’s top Blues performers – Thursdays, 8 p.m. to midnight
- The N’awlins All Star Band – Fridays and Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Whether you’re visiting Toronto for the first time, have always lived in the city, or looking for an after-work hotspot, you’re guaranteed to have truly memorable experiences on Restaurant Row.
P.S. You can check out the events page on the N’awlins Jazz Bar website for the full rundown of nightly live entertainment. Tell ‘em we sent you!
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