If you go
• Little Conejo, 114 W. Sixth St., Vancouver. 360-718-2633. www.facebook.com/littleconejovancouver
According to Little Conejo co-owner Mychal Dynes, “We all have had a taco that has changed our life.”
I can’t promise that the tacos at Little Conejo will change your life, but I can say that all the other tacos that you thought were good will seem sadly lacking.
My husband put it this way: “These are the best tacos I have ever had.”
All this culinary bliss may sound wonderful, but I wonder if it’s a good thing to find the Holy Grail of tacos. Will the world just become a dismal place filled with inferior tacos? These philosophical questions seem like a waste of time when you could be sipping handmade mezcal and eating a round of revelatory tacos at Little Conejo.
Owners Mychal Dynes and Mark Wooten worked in fine dining, but wanted their restaurant to be counter-service casual. Mychal explained, “I like casual food done well with care and heart.”
They chose the name Little Conejo (little rabbit in Spanish) because all produce for the restaurant comes from Mark’s farm (co-owned with Melissa Joubert), Phantom Rabbit. In addition to growing the vegetables for Little Conejo, Mark is the chef. According to Mark, “It is the best produce. Me being out there and being the chef, I can have almost 100 percent control over what I grow for the restaurant.”
Orders are placed at the front counter and brought to the table. The room is a marriage of old Mexico and modern Pacific Northwest. An earthen, rough-textured hutch surrounds the handmade bar stocked with mezcal.
Why mezcal? “Tequila is the champagne of agave drinks, I prefer the humbleness of mezcal,” Mychal said. The mezcals offered are all handmade using traditional methods and hail from the eight mezcal-producing states in Mexico. When I tried a mezcal flight (the Del Maguey Flight) the first words that came to my mind were fire water. This is a smoky, fiery spirit and the first taste (the beso) doesn’t play nice, but if you patiently sip the rest it will dance on your tongue and warm your spirit.
Old-fashioned methods are also employed in preparing food at Little Conejo. The tortillas start with a corn imported from Chihuahua. The corn is cooked and soaked overnight in an alkaline solution and then milled on-site producing fresh masa. The masa is run through a tortilla press, and grilled creating circles that resist the teeth and smell of fresh earth.
The meat for the tacos is slow-cooked based on traditional Mexican recipes. The lamb barbacoa (a favorite that sells out quickly) is slow cooked for sixteen hours in its own juices, simply seasoned with salt and avocado leaves. The lamb tacos are garnished with a raw tomatillo salsa, onion and cilantro. On the nights I visited, carnitas, al pastor, suadero (beef), lengua (beef tongue), lamb barbacoa, pescado frito (fish), and three sisters (bean, squash, corn) tacos were offered. All the tacos are simply garnished with house made salsas, cilantro, and onion.
The dessert menu consists of one item — piloncillo cookies with chocolate sauce. Piloncillo is not as sweet as refined sugar and has hints of rum and caramel. The cookies are biscotti-shaped, crumbly shortbread engineered perfectly for dipping in the small ramekin of cinnamon-kissed Mexican chocolate. The perfect ending to a transformative meal.
Rachel Pinsky can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @couveeats.