Food & Drink

What’s on the menu at El Rey Mezcal Bar, Grant van Gameren’s new Kensington kitchen

By Caroline Aksich| Photography by Caroline Aksich
What's on the menu at El Rey Mezcal Bar, Grant van Gameren's new Kensington kitchen

Our Review of El Rey

Nine of the best Toronto restaurants to try in August
Food & Drink

Nine of the best Toronto restaurants to try in August

Name: El Rey Mezcal Bar Neighbourhood: Kensington Market Contact: 2A Kensington Ave., no phone,, @elreymezcalbar
Previously: Kensington Cornerstone Owners: Grant van Gameren (Bar Isabel, Bar Raval) and Owen Walker Chefs: Kate Chomyshyn and Julio Guajardo (Montreal’s La Catrina, Tuck Shop, Le Comptoir)

The food

A short menu of Mexican small plates like sopes, ceviche and quesadillas. The spartan kitchen doesn’t even have a walk-in fridge—but it does have a masa grinder. Every morning the staff grind maize for tortillas used in tostadas, tlyuditas and quesadillas. Cured meats like chorizo toluqueño, which come in the sope with refried beans and a sunny-side-up quail egg, are made in house. Before hiring husband-and-wife team Guajardo and Chomyshyn, van Gameren flew to Montreal to test their cooking chops: he had them cook him a meal in their St-Henri apartment, complete with wine pairings. Sufficiently impressed, he asked them to move to Toronto.

El Rey’s sope. Photo by Caroline Aksich

This sope is a deep-fried potato-corn tortilla topped with refried beans, chorizo toluqueño, tomatillos and avocado salsa. $10.


This tostada special is slathered with guacamole, and piled with pickled shallots and crickets. $5.


This tlayudita is a mini version of a tlayuda, a popular Oaxacan dish. A grilled tortilla is covered with asiento (whipped pork lard) and then loaded with beans, cabbage, quesillo and beef tasajo (thinly sliced, guajillo-spiced inside round). $11.


Coctel a la Campechana is a mostly raw seafood cocktail. Nordic shrimp, oysters and clams get a quick cure from the tomato juice, spiked with orange and lime juice. The octopus is braised in chipotle and mirepoix. $21.


From left to right: chefs Guajardo and Chomyshyn, and co-owners van Gameren and Walker.

The drinks

As the name suggests, the spotlight here is on mezcal (but there are also 18 different tequilas and 20 rums). The menu features tasting flights designed to show off the spirit’s dexterity, as well as cocktails like the Turkey Point Hotel made with mezcal and grapefruit vermouth, and the Mexploitation, a mai tai with a tequila twist.


For the What is Mezcal? flight, Walker selects three mezcals to show off the different varieties of agave and their flavour profiles. $38.


Select regulars will their own jícaras (gourd cups) which are kept above the bar. (A customer named Rob has already claimed that one on the right.)


Mexploitation: Cazadores Reposado, Smith and Cross rum, sherry, “horgeat” (horchata and orgeat), pineapple and mint. $14.

The space

The small space was outfitted in wood and terracotta, and a brick wall was added to divide the room. The back room features a trippy mirrored ceiling (which will be even trippier after a few mezcal flights). The patio doubles the bar’s capacity to 80, and on Pedestrian Sundays, El Rey will get an extra 55 seats on the street.


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