Where Toronto Underground Market founder Hassel Aviles eats Latin American food
We're going on the road with some of the city's top chefs and restaurateurs to explore their favourite restaurants. Hassel Aviles tells us what's good in Leslieville, Christie Pits and Humewood
When Hassel Aviles launched the Toronto Underground Market in 2011, she immediately sparked a street food revolution. Aviles (now director of sales for Barque) noticed a lack of international street food in the city, so she created an incubator for it in the form of a social event. “I’ve worked in restaurants my entire adult life,” Aviles says. “I wanted to create the restaurant experience in a whole new setting.”
When Aviles learned that San Francisco launched an underground market in 2009, she wanted to bring the idea to Toronto. With her then-husband, Andrew Richmond (La Carnita), she hashed out the plan for TUM. The inaugural event was a huge success—as were the nearly two-dozen markets that followed—and it jumpstarted a movement of food-based pop-ups. Many of the city’s popular restaurants and bakeries got their start at TUM: La Carnita, Fidel Gastro, Seven Lives, Sullivan and Bleeker and Adamson Barbecue (then known as Stoke Stack).
Aviles’ parents emigrated from Chile in the ’70s, during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. She visited the country for the first time when she was 16 and remembers it vividly. “It had an immense impact on me: everyone looked the same, they talked the same, they ate the same—it was very different from my school in Toronto, Hillcrest, which was very multi-cultural in a United Colors of Benetton way,” Aviles says. “I love our food scene here—we’re beyond spoiled.”
5 Coady Ave., 416-901-9233, completo.club
Aviles has been a fan of Completo since it started as a pop-up in Kensington Market’s El Gordo food court a few years ago.
Go-to item #1: The Completo, a Chilean-style hot dog topped with mashed avocado, mayo and salsa.
Tasting notes: “This is something we grew up with—it’s typically loaded with “salsa golf” [a ketchup-and-mayo sauce]. These guys make their own version of it, and it’s so good. You can eat the Completo with your hands but it gets really messy, so I suggest using a fork and knife.”
Go-to item #2: The Veggie Box, fresh-cut fries served with a black-bean-and-chickpea patty topped with two sunny-side-up eggs.
Tasting notes: “This is kind of like a South-American poutine,” Aviles says.
Tacos El Asador
689 Bloor St. W., 416-538-9747, no website
Aviles’ parents introduced her to this Salvadoran institution in Koreatown. “My parents didn’t like eating out at most restaurants—they preferred down-to-earth spots like this,” Aviles says. “We came here regularly for take-out burritos and tacos.”
Go-to item #1: Chicken soup.
Tasting notes: “This soup is similar to Chilean cazuela, a beautifully simple dish made by cooking chunks of meat and corn in a big pot. My mom makes a great version of this at home, so when I want something hearty and nostalgic, this is what I order. I pull out the contents of the soup and put it in tortillas—that’s not the authentic way to eat it, just something I like to do,” Aviles says.
Go-to item #2: Fish tacos.
Tasting notes: “They’re some of the best in the city,” Aviles says. “They’re no fuss—just spicy crema and salsa.”
543 St. Clair Ave. W., 416-850-8041, elfogon.ca
One of Aviles’s favourite Latin American sit-down restaurants is located right in her own neighbourhood. The 13-year-old Peruvian restaurant is known for its seafood dishes. “The food here reminds me very much of my mom’s cooking,” Aviles says.
Go-to item #1: Pescado frito, pan-fried fish served with plantain, criolla salad and rice.
Tasting notes: “The fried-fish-and-rice combo is a very classic thing—like a homemade meal,” Aviles says. “I love how flaky and juicy the fish is here, it’s just slightly undercooked and so silky. They do a fantastic job with it every time.”