A downtown restaurant will combine the comfort of classic Irish dishes with the zest of Mexican cuisine when it reopens in coming days.
Mauricio Horta Diez and Stephanie De Horta Diez recently bought the four-storey Charlotte Street building where their restaurant El Jefe Taco Bar is located. They’ve spent the past several weeks renovating the space to make it cosier and more manageable, as well as revamping the menu to offer hearty Irish grub alongside traditional Mexican fare.
And, in some dishes, they’ll combine the two worlds in a corned beef-meets-corn tortillas twist.
“It’s going to be a taco bar but we’re doing a fusion. El Jefe was authentic Mexican so now we want to bring in my wife’s culture, which is Irish,” explained Horta Diez, who plans to open to the public on Monday, Dec. 2, at 12 p.m. “We’re going to have some tacos with Irish beef marinated with Guinness and make tacos with that. We’re going to have lamb tacos. We’re going to have bangers and mash. We’re going to have some stews, or make an Irish chili, so we’re trying to blend the cultures.”
EL Jefe Taco Bar
- Opened as El Jefe Mexican Food in 2012 in a former pizza shop in Reserve Mines
- Moved to Prince Street Market in August 2017
- Relocated to current location at 193 Charlotte St. on May 5, 2018 — Cinco de Mayo
- Renovated and rebranded as El Jefe Taco Bar
- Hours: Monday to Saturday from 12-8 p.m.
- El Jefe means” The Boss ” in English
The union comes naturally for the couple.
Horta Diez, 39, who is from Mexico City, met his wife, a Boularderie native, when they were both living in Montreal. Since settling in Cape Breton with their children Ian and Mia, family meals have evolved to reflect the combination of cultures.
“He loves Irish food and that just seems to be what we make in my family. We make bangers and mash, ploughman’s lunch, corned beef and cabbage — those are the things I grew up on. It became a mix of what we both do,” said De Horta Diez, 41, whose maiden name is Tobin.
And no matter what they were eating, Horta Diez usually finds a way to make it into a taco.
“He grabbed corn tortillas and whatever I made — I always use my family recipes for things like Irish beef and Guinness stew — became a taco,” she said.
Her husband agrees.
“Every time she cooked a stew, I used to drain the juice and make tacos. The other day we had corn beef and cabbage and I made tacos out of it,” he said. “The tortilla for Mexican people is the plate, the spoon and the bread. We use it for everything.”
Horta Diez said they are also experimenting with cocktails that merge Mexican and Irish spirits.
El Jefe’s will also pay tribute an historic connection between Mexico and Ireland by displaying the Saint Patrick’s Battalion flag.
When the United States invaded Mexico in 1846, the U.S. Army unit made up of mostly of Catholic Irish immigrants deserted and fought alongside the Mexicans. Known as the San Patricios, the men are still honoured today in Mexico and Ireland.
“They were Irish and they turned against the U.S. and fought for Mexico,” he said.
One thing people will immediately notice is the size of El Jefe Taco Bar.
Its previous layout was about 1,200 square feet and could seat 64 people. Now it will be a third that size and accommodate 28 customers. That means they will no longer operate their night club La Boom or pizza shop Good Fellas from the location.
Horta Diez believes the streamlined El Jefe will have quicker service and be more affordable.
His wife said it’s much closer to the mom-and-pop feel they always wanted but was hard to capture in the much larger space.
She feels it will give diners who are reluctant to try Mexican food because they think it is too spicy other options.
“We’re still El Jefe but we’ve always been asked by some couples to do something ‘Canadian,’” she said. “Some people can’t handle Mexican spice — some people think it’s going to be really, really hot — so one person might love it on a date but the other person might not. And Canadian to me is Irish food because that’s what I eat. It’s so Cape Breton. It’s just what we know and at everybody’s house we always had mashed potatoes on the table. It’s just what we eat here.”