Regional Mexican Food at Home in Steveston:
Hola! Steveston’s Little Mexico Cantina has a new owner and changes to the established business have been dramatic.
Carol Janeczko purchased the restaurant last July and has been busy reinventing the space to make it her own. This Manitoba born business owner is a fireball of energy. Along with Chef Roberto Lopez Lara, she has reworked the entire menu, and they are in the process of giving the restaurant’s interior a major facelift.
Last Christmas the pair installed a stone wall. They have been asked many times whom they hired and they proudly report they did it themselves. When Janeczko was a child she watched and learnt skills from her father. She says, “I stole with my eyes, watching my father work. There is nothing women can’t do.” She is full of surprises, and reveals that in addition to her renovation skills, one of her favourite hobbies is deep-sea fishing in Haida Gwaii.
The décor has also changed. Black and white photographs, sundials and authentic charro hats are all tastefully displayed. A countertop constructed from salvaged Cypress wood will be installed to create new bar side seating.
Passion for her new found career is right on the surface. Janeczko says, “I had always wanted to operate a restaurant. I have more yesterdays than tomorrows. This is a dream come true.”
Janeczko confesses that the hours are long, however, she adds, “My worst day here beats any best day at my past jobs. This is a labour of love.”
There is no question she loves her work. Janeczko is at the restaurant seven days a week, and she is making the most of it by experiencing all aspects of the business. She serves, bartends, washes dishes, sweeps floors, and line cooks alongside Chef Roberto. They even shop together to source out the freshest ingredients.
Back home in Manitoba, when she was raising her own family, Janeczko boarded a number of international students and became fascinated with other parts of the world. Subsequently, she travelled extensively through central and coastal Mexico, and feels such a strong kinship to the country that she refers to herself as an honourary Mexican. Chef Roberto concurs with a smile.
He comes from Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, located on the Gulf of Mexico (bordering the state of Texas). Ironically, there is a Polish population in this area, mirroring Janeczko’s family heritage, and this deepens her connection to this particular region.
The menu is like a road map to regional Mexican cuisine. Dishes have been chosen to expose diners to “a little taste of what Mexicans really eat,” says Chef Roberto.
The goal is to make the dining experience as authentic as possible. You will not find Mexi-fries or hard-shell tacos at Little Mexico Cantina.
What you will find is soft corn tortillas, meat that has been braised for 8 hours (no short cuts are taken), grass-fed beef from a local farm, chorizo made by Chef Roberto from his grandfather’s recipe, housemade seasonings and fresh salsa made daily. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are all available.
A tasty and well-rounded taco menu tempts guests to experience what Chef Roberto calls “the people’s food.” Order a few, they are very reasonably priced ($4 to $5). The tastes and spices will dance in your mouth.
A seaside treat is the Ensenada Style Fish Taco featuring grilled red snapper with house seasoning. It is topped with guacamole sauce and a mix of shredded white and purple cabbage. The Beef Barbacoa Taco is another crowd pleaser. It features slowly braised beef topped with diced onions, chopped cilantro and is served with lime and chile de arbol sauce.
In addition to the taco menu, you will find a number of chef’s specials to tempt your taste buds and a variety of Mezcal and Tequila to pair with your meal. Chef Roberto points out that contrary to popular belief, these drinks should not be knocked back in one gulp; in fact they should be sipped. “Kiss the glass,” he says.
One of the signs of a popular restaurant is a line up, and Janeczko says this has been known to happen. She reports people of all ages have discovered the dining spot, from families to high school students, all have been enjoying Little Mexico Cantina.
If your budget does not allow for a trip to Mexico, or if you are craving a taste for authentic Mexican cuisine, head to Little Mexico Cantina. Short of the sand and the sun, you will feel like you have escaped to paradise. You can even test your Spanish; a few of the staff are Spanish speaking and would be happy to engage. Like Janeczko, you too may leave feeling a strong pull south.
Little Mexico Cantina
150-3131 Chatham Street
Richmond BC V7E 2Y4