Why talk about it?
Opened as an unpretentious taqueria during the pandemic in the Saint-Sauveur district of Quebec, Julio Taqueria underwent an expansion and major renovations last spring. The result is spectacular. We don’t know of any dining room that resembles the colorful canteen designed by the architects of Lanterne. In this new space, much more comfortable than the previous one, people take their time, sip excellent cocktails, share dishes and enjoy the journey.
Who are they ?
The owners of Julio Taqueria also own the very popular cocktail bar Chez Tao, inspired by the flavors of Southeast Asia, as well as the elegant jjacques. It was Vincent Thuaud, Noémie Ducharme and Damien Geoffroy who built this little empire of good drinking and eating well in Quebec.
If the chef Jaysen Hunter is from Quebec, the majority of kitchen employees are Mexican. “We started hiring foreign workers for our establishments before COVID-19. The whole team learned Spanish to be able to communicate with these new colleagues and employees,” says Noémie. Today, cooks who have made their mark are happily engaged in designing new dishes, all without a trace of gluten.
As soon as we cross the threshold, the modern but evocative decor tells us that we are not in a traditional Mexican cuisine restaurant. The space is divided into three monochrome sections: one in an orange-red which can recall a covered market with its small roof; a yellow one, a little more intimate and set back; then a blue one, consisting of a large counter for those who like to sit higher.
It was the first Sunday evening of Julio, now open seven days, in continuous service. “There are several restaurateurs who are restricting their hours and their offerings at the moment, to compensate for the lack of labor or the fact that people are going out a little less. We decided to do the opposite! », says Noémie when we speak in the week following my visit.
My teenager and I had just spent the day on the slopes of the Massif and were still cold to the bone. The posole verde, one of the most warming soups I have ever had, was required. The green version is based on broth to which a puree made of tomatillos, green peppers (often poblano) and coriander is added. What makes it very nutritious: meat (often chicken) and leached corn. This grain corn (and not a vegetable, like that which we eat on the cob) has the particularity of having been cooked then soaked in water to which a little edible lime has been added. The process, called nixtamalization, changes the taste of the corn and releases niacin.
Julio’s delicious posole is offered in two sizes. The large one at $13 will feed you for the day or evening. But since I was also hungry for the other starters we had chosen, I opted for the small one. Jalapeño poppers, stuffed with cheese then encased in thick breading, are decadent, but perhaps a little unremarkable. Doing it again, I would have chosen the elote-style sweet potato, with house queso fresco, chipotle mayonnaise and corn salsa.
We had no regrets ordering the sikil pak, a very aromatic Mayan dip made from pumpkin seeds (pepitas), roasted tomatoes and peppers, coriander, garlic and sometimes lime and orange. It is eaten with homemade chips.
At Julio, the tortillas are made daily, with masa flour (then the excess is made into chips the next day). The restaurant even purchased an expensive Tortilla Masters machine to form the patties more quickly, and they are then cooked by hand. Ours had perfectly seasoned confit pork carnitas, pickled onions and salsa verde.
Is it a taco or a quesadilla? Regardless, quesabirria has been all the rage for several years. It’s normally a particularly rich dish, dripping with beef fat and cheese. We like it that way. Julio’s is perhaps a little conservative, but the pâté in which the stuffed tortilla is dipped has the required depth.
Homemade hot sauces, whether the burnt onion one, the versatile jalapeño sauce or the surprising orange sauce, should not be left as decoration on the table. They add more flavor than fire.
The cocktails are a real asset of Julio. In addition to several versions of the margarita – I opted for the very successful “picante”, again in the hope of warming up – there are some inspired creations. “Isla de Queso,” for example, is so named because one of its ingredients is a whey cordial, made with the by-product of fresh cheese made on site. Vincent Thuot, who is the group’s chief mixologist, took a minimalist and eco-responsible tangent. There is no longer any unnecessary decoration in the cocktails and we work together with the kitchen to reduce waste as much as possible. Do you prefer beer? There are some, as well as some decent wine choices. Aguas frescas, horchata and Jarritos (Mexican soft drinks) are some of the non-alcoholic options.
The most expensive dish (quesabirria) costs $18. The two of us ate our fill for around a hundred dollars, including a cocktail and a Jarrito.
Good to know
Julio is a gluten-free restaurant. With corn as the main grain, it’s quite simple to remove all traces of gluten from a Mexican menu. The biggest challenge was making churros with mixed flour, and I would say that despite a very different texture, a little less crispy, perhaps, it’s mission accomplished, among other things thanks to a dulce de leche dip which does not fall on the heart.
Julio is open seven days a week, from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Starting February 10, there will be a brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays.
218, rue Saint-Vallier Ouest, Quebec
Visit the Julio Taqueria website