Say goodbye to shawarma restaurants and hello to Mexican. Photo: Tristain Pollard.
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Mexican food stepping up as new crowd favourite

The shawarma is losing its central place in Ottawa’s identity. As crazy and as blasphemous as that sounds, it’s true. The Ottawa food scene is expanding well beyond the late-night meat wrap we all know and love.

Replacing the shawarma in downtown Ottawa is Mexican food. More Mexican restaurants are opening every year and there are now at least six restaurants in the Byward Market serving up Mexican or Latin American food.

Some notable examples include the fast-food chain BarBurrito, located beside the former Rideau St. staple Castle Shawarma, and Corazon de Mais inside the Byward Market Square building. Clarence St. is a powerhouse of Mexican cuisine, with Ace Mercado on the corner at Dalhousie St., and Burrito Borracho and a Mexican dessert restaurant next door conveniently located side-by-side, so you can get a sweet treat after dinner.

The list of Mexican hot spots goes on and on, and keen observers will note that I’ve left out arguably the best salsa in town at Ahora. What this growing list speaks to, however, is the expansion of the market for Mexican, and how restaurants that serve it are being embraced by the Ottawa community. In fact, the demand for all things Mexican has grown so much that the owners of Zak’s Diner have opened Zak’s Cantina right next door, serving up tacos and tequila drinks.

This growing number of Mexican restaurants contrasts with the shrinking and stagnating number of shawarma spots. Shawarma restaurants in the market seem to be closing, instead of opening up new locations, and the restaurants that do exist seem to have little desire to change and cater to new clientele.

This growth in Latin American cuisine is important, despite it being subtle and seemingly only taking place downtown. Whether locals like it or not, the Byward Market is a large part of what informs tourists’ opinion of Ottawa. This is what helps restaurants to grow, as well as create the idea of what visitors have to try when they’re in town.

Shawarma is delicious, and the food has left a definitive mark on the city, but its time as everyone’s favourite late-night munchie is ending. Step aside, because Latin American cooking is new way to go—and with poutine already number one in our hearts, this could lead to nacho poutine making its way into every menu on the block.