It is no secret that I love Mexican food, especially tacos so it was shocking that I hadn’t yet tried Wilbur Mexicana Restaurant given that it opened over a year ago. A few weeks ago I was finally able to check this restaurant outwith my friends Lynsey and Sarah.
The restaurant is named after the chemist Wilbur Scoville, who created the Scoville scale which is used to measure the heat of peppers. No, this isn’t something that I just randomly know because I am a huge history nerd (which is true); the restaurant provides fun facts on the menu and the table numbers.
The restaurant’s interior is industrial and resembles a 19th century laboratory. There is a combination of sleek countertops, high-top tables and lower tables clustered around tufted-leather booths. The back wall of the restaurant is a feature wall: there is a large, apothecary-cabinet like wall piece that houses dried chilies and other supplies, ready for scientific experiments. The light fixtures are appropriated scientific beakers, giving the restaurant that hipster-industrial cool edge that King West craves.
The restaurant features casual ordering: you order from the front counter, they give you a number which features a stylized drawing of a pepper on the front and the back provides various factoids regarding the pepper. How could I not love Wilbur: good food and knowledge! We each ordered 3 tacos, and starters to share: chips with guacamole, chips with queso fundido and Mexican street corn.
The food was delivered extremely quickly (less than 10 minutes) and then it was time to hit the salsa bar. The salsa bar is the focal point of the restaurant. It has at least a dozen different types of house-made salsa and then over 60 types of hot sauces. The salsas range in heat and texture from the mild and chunky pineapple pico de gallo to the extremely hot and smooth ghost pepper salsa (which I obviously did not sample).
It is not necessary to order chips because tacos are served with chips which is amazing and not a common thing. The guacamole is how I like and make my own guacamole: just smashed avocado, garlic, lime and red onion. It is simple, tangy and biting. The queso fundido was cheesy with a bit of heat from jalapeño peppers. If you had to pick between the two, my choice would be the guacamole but why choose?
The Mexican Street Corn is charred corn on the cob, chipotle crema, cotija and guajillo chili powder. The corn is sweet and caramelized, bringing out that deeper, smokier, sweeter flavour that is buried beneath the surface. I can only imagine how good this corn would taste in August when corn is in season as opposed to the end of February. The cotija retains is shape and texture since it doesn’t melt on the corn and the chipotle creama and guajillo chili powder add a subtle heat to the corn that balances out the natural sweetness.
I had the Chicken Tinga taco, the Baja Fish taco and the Pork taco.
The Chicken Tinga taco in a crispy corn tortilla with guacamole and cotija.
The Baja Fish taco in a corn tortilla with beer battered mahi-mahi, cabbage, pico de gallo and chipotle crema.
The Pork taco in a flour tortilla with pickled red onion, lettuce, chipotle cream, and cotija.
My favourite was the Chicken Tinga. The crispy corn tortilla was crunchy and had a slightly nutty taste to it. The chicken was spicy and didn’t need extra heat from the salsa bar. The best salsa bar-taco combination: the Pork with the pineapple pico de gallo. The sweetness of the pineapple pulled out the sweetness of the pork and was just delicious. It highlighted the strength of Wilbur which was the interplay between its salsas and its tacos. The Baja Fish taco was good, but obviously not as good as arguably the best fish taco in the city, the In Cod We Trust from La Carnita.
These tacos were good, but not my favourite. It’s hard to compete on the taco scene in Toronto as there are so many contenders: Seven Lives, La Carnita, Grand Electric, Milagro, Playa Cabana and all its iterations to name a few. The appeal of Wilbur is the customization you can create with your taco. Each taco is simply dressed to allow the customer to take full advantage of the salsa bar. If you are looking to challenge and delight your taste buds with flavours and spice, then check out the salsa bar and tacos at Wilbur.