April 28, 2011 | | Comments 41

Dona Cata Mexican Restaurant on Victoria and 34th, Vancouver

Truth is I know very little about Mexican food. Sometimes I get confused with what is what in Mexican cuisine. Perhaps what I know about Mexican food can be summed up as follows:

Quesadillas has cheese. Tacos can be soft shell or hard shell. Burritos is a Mexican wrap. Oh … what is fajitas now? Can I say it is like quesadillas without the cheese? What is enchiladas now? I can imagine some of you now shaking your heads side  to side and tsk-tsk’ing me. Go ahead. :-)

Apart from not having someone to teach me about the cuisine, perhaps one of the things that prevents me from trying more is because I associate Mexican cuisine with beans. I just never liked beans. Never did since when I was young.

Another thing too. I always thought of Mexican food as colorful food. I am not sure why. Maybe it is because of the fruits I had before or the colorful chips.

And of course … Mexican food is spicy!

We met up with Mo and Patch. This is so long ago I can’t even remember when exactly it was. Maybe it was at least 2 months ago.

Mo is the one who writes the EcoGreenBean blog. Mo suggested that we meet in Dona Cata and since we had not blogged about this place before we readily agree. It is good that we blog about non-Asian food once in a while, right?

The Dona Cata is a popular restaurant, and is one of only a handful of Mexican restaurant in town. The Mexican flag draped in front of the restaurant tells me that Mexicans are proud of their flag. How come we don’t often see Asian restaurants have flags draped outside the restaurant is what I was trying to say.

This is one restaurant that is well covered by the media for sure. They had amassed quite a lot of news articles which they proudly frame up and hung on the wall. They are running … out of space.

I was captivated by the salsa bar lining near the entrance of the restaurant. It has 10 types of salsa — all free and for you to take as much as you can handle.

They told us that they had arranged them from the mildest to the hottest. Surprisingly the hottest salsa is the one called avacado … and oh boy, was it hot!

Suanne reminded me that she had salsa recipes (and other Mexican food) on chowtimes: green salsared salsahomemade tortilla, guacamole. You might like to check it out.

Looking at the menu was a big blur to me. Not knowing the cuisine made it worse. For the most part, a lot of the dishes sounded the same but I know they are not.

When Mo mentioned they have Horchata ($2.50), I know I wanted that too. We had this a lot when we were vacationing in Spain and learn to love it. It is a refreshing drink made with rice and cinnamon. It is also lightly sweetened with sugar.

I made a beeline to the salsa bar and grab a few salsa to try. Of course I ignored the mildest and went for the hottest. It was a lot of interesting types of salsa. It included flavours like  peanut, chipotle, avocado, etc.

One thing I noticed is that the green colored ones are more spicy than the red ones. Isn’t it funny … that in Chinese cuisine, we associate red with spiciness instead?

Besides the 10 types of salsas, there are other condiments too. It includes dried chili, jalapeno and slice onions.

The heroness in me wanted to try the dried chili. Nice but very very hot. Suanne was too chicken to try.

At first I did not know what was the Molcajete De Guacamole and then I realize it’s guacamole. Ah … guacamole I know. I like this potpourri of freshly cut ingredients which has avocado, onions, tomatotes and cilantro. This is $6 for a large one.


This is the type of food that I can eat on and on and on. Hmmm … maybe I need to hint to Suanne to make this at home since she had done this at the Richmond Community Kitchen already. Good for playoff snacks, right?

I heard that tortilla is free in Mexico. All you can eat. Here the 1st basket is free. We asked for more chips and was charged $1.00 for it.

We also got another appetizer. Patch ordered 2 tacos and it was $2.00 each. I cannot remember now but I thought Patch told me something about tacos being served with two small slices tortilla each.

The above is Mo’s dish. This is ordered off from a page off the menu that says Alambres Preparadas. Not sure what it meant but it is a page of 30 different items of various combinations and costs $10.50.

So this is called the Azteca and has pork chop, bisteck, jalapeno, rajas, onion, corn and cheese. Bisteck and rajas are something I don’t know. Maybe I’ll leave it to Mo to describe her dish.

Mo?

I was quite pleased with my selection although I must admit I had no idea what this will look like. Everything was great except for just one little blemish … the beans. And worse, it was mashed. LOL! So I did not touch the beans but the rest of the plate was … how do they say in Spanish? Excellente?

This is called the Plato Ranchero and is $12.50. I get a choice of skirt steak and pork chop chuketa. I got the pork chop. It is served with refritos, crema, arroz Mexicano and 3 corn tortillas.

Nice touch. I like that the corn tortilla was served on the side in a basket wrapped in towel to keep them warm, nice and soft.

I just placed a bit of evertyhing onto the tortilla and enjoy. Yeah, the one above with the mashed beans is for show only. Suanne ate that, not me. Mine doesn’t come with mashed beans but it did not look as nice on photo.

Suanne snagged the signature dish — the Dona Cata Special. She has a choice of either corn tortilla or flour tortilla. Since I already had the corn tortilla, Suanne opted for the flour tortilla.

Corn and flour tortilla looked the same to me but was pointed out to me that the difference is flour tortilla is bigger than the corn tortilla.

The description of Dona Cata Special is pastor, longaniza, enchilada, green pepper, tomato, onion and cheese. So, pastor is thin slices of pork marinated in achiote and roasted on a spit. The pork is sliced off the spit and served in a taco with onions, cilantro and pineapple.

So apparently Enchiladas is corn tortillas that are quickly fried in oil, soaked in a sauce, filled with meat or cheese and rolled. The rolls may then be covered with additional sauce, cheese, crema or lettuce. That sounds like tacos to me. No? Anyway, the Richmond Community Kitchen had done a black bean enchilada here.

Anyway, it does look more delicious than mine. The serving is big. So big that Suanne only ate half and pack the leftover to go.

Patch had the Ranchero which has the description bisteck, pork chop, pastor, onion, tomato, green pepper and cheese. The name of this dish sounded like mine but looked like Suanne’s.

All these names are so overwhelming to me. I need to eat more and more of Mexican to get all these names internalized.

Total was not too bad for four people right? That is slightly above $20 a person.

You should check out Mo’s blog. She is currently writing about her Hawaii trip.

Doña Cata Mexican Food on UrbanspoonBUSINESS HOUR

Tuesday to Saturday: 12:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Sunday: 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM

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  1. Scooter says:

    Rajas in Spanish means “strips” but in cooking usually refers to Strips of roasted, peeled cut chili peppers, and Bisteak is Mexican skirt steak.

  2. Maggie says:

    Ben — Mexican cuisine varies almost as much as Chinese cuisine does. Here in southern Arizona, we have mostly Sonoran style (lots of frijoles refritos/refried beans/mashed beans), but we can get Oaxacan and Mexico City style as well. Oaxacan tends to use black beans instead of pinto beans, normally served intact. We also have some excellent Mexican seafood restaurants that serve shrimp en diablados (very hot) and ceviche (finely diced raw fish marinated in citrus). Goat meat is popular in some regions of Mexico. If you add the U.S. influenced variations such as Tex-Mex, you soon realize that there is no one kind of Mexican food.
    I noticed that Dona Cata had nopales (cactus pads) on the menu. Prepared correctly, they are quite good and very healthy, but I think Suanne would like it more than you and your sons. I don’t think you need to become as much of an expert on Mexican regional cuisine as you are on the 8 great cuisines of China, but you will enjoy it a lot more if you understand that there is a lot of variety in Mexican food and you have only sampled a very small part of it. In time, I’m sure there will be more of a selection of Mexican restaurants in the greater metro Vancouver area.

    • Ben says:

      Thanks Maggie. I won’t be surprised if anyone says that the Mexican food in Vancouver pales in comparison with what you have throughout the USA. There is not a big Mexican (or South American) community here. Anyway, one of the impressions I have about Mexican and South American food is that many of the world’s favourite ingredients came from the region (Chili, potatoes, bananas, just to name a few). Ben

  3. pinoy gourmet says:

    Mexican cuisine has several regional styles,For example Northern Mexican cuisine is known for la carne asada or roast meat.The central Pacific Coast is known for Seafood and Tequila.The Yucatan is known for Caribean influences like rum and habanero peppers.Mexico is known as the melting pot.The El Baijo region has a very strong Spanish influence.There is great diversity in Mexican cuisine.Perhaps something new to explore???

  4. LotusRapper says:

    I could go as high as Salsa #5, maybe #6 with water on hand. What a weenie, eh ?

    Looks like you didn’t have the Tres Leches cake ….. it’s very good there !

    Did the woman-man duet sing when you were there ? They add to the ambiance :-)

  5. Joyluckclub says:

    Hey Ben…..
    I used to be a bean hater too….but I’ve learned to love them now.
    BR was the same, but I make them quite spiced and seasoned…..and believe it or not mashed!! We really like them now.

    I started BR on them by adding them to nachos….now he loves them. Maybe when you convince Suanne to make Guacomole…she will also make a big mess o’ nachos with beans for you!

    • Ben says:

      Hi joyluckclub: LOL! I don’t know about that! Guacamole is really fine by me but beans, that will need getting used to. Anyway, Suanne knows that I am notorious of producing … errr … gas every time I had beans. She knows because she gets audible cues from me. Now you know why she had no desire to allow me to love beans. Ben

  6. pinoy gourmet says:

    Ben,I am happy to organize a Mexican regional meal,I would start with featuring the food of El Norte,The Mexican North.It is the Mexican cuisine most familiar to us Tacos,Fajitas,Burritos,Nachos and Carne Asada.What do you think???

    • LotusRapper says:

      I’d be happy to attend, and eat :-)

    • Ben says:

      Hi Pinoy Gourmet: I cringed a little when I read that. To tell the truth I am so up to my neck with work and I am striving to maintain a balance in my life. And that dang playoffs is taking 3 hours of valuable time every other day from me doing what I need to do! LOL! So, really as much I would love to do it, I find that it will at an expense of other things. Maybe things will get better in the near future but given what is happening at work right now, it looks like it is gonna be more work coming down the pipe (in a good way). Ben

      • LotusRapper says:

        I think an 8GTCC dinner would come first, no ? [wink]

        • Ben says:

          That’s right, LR. I am soooo sorry for dragging my feet. Been on a standby for a few weeks already awaiting confirmation of changes in my role at work that I dared not commit to anything else at the moment. Would love to revive the 8GTCC but I don’t know given my situation now. Ben

  7. neige.tyro says:

    a coworker who’s moved back to mexico told me a while ago that most mexican restaurants in greater vancouver are actually salvadorian-based rather than mexican.

    anyone shed light on this? i doubt it matters to the ppl who don’t know the difference but thought it’s interesting.

    • Ben says:

      Hi Neige.Tyro: Interesting to know about Salvadorian community in Vancouver. I checked the wiki and found that the population of Mexico is 112 million while El Salvador is just 6 million. So it is interesting to know how Salvadorians community is so well-represented in Vancouver as compared to Mexicans. I wonder if there is a stats about the community population of south Americans in Vancouver. In my company, there are three Mexicans working there. Very friendly and polite people. Ben

  8. Pinoy Gourmet says:

    Well its partially true Since many central americans WORK in Mexican restaurants.

  9. Mmmm, these photos look so good! Cna’t make it all the way to Dona Cata this weekend… may have to make do with trying out Salsa and Agave downtown. All because of your photosm, darn it. :)

  10. Scooter says:

    There do seem to be a lot of El Salvadorans with Latin restaurants/stores in town but I know that the folks from Primos are Mexican and the guys who own La Casita are from Oaxaca and the family from Dona Cata are also Mexican (they told me from where but I forget).

    • Ben says:

      Hi Scooter: Primos and la Casitas are two names I had never heard of before. Thanks. The pix of the food in La Casitas (on urbanspoon) looked like something I would love a lot. There is nothing much written about Primos. Upon further digging, I see that there are a LOT of Mexican restaurants listed under Urbanspoon (see below). Interesting. Time to open my eyes to Mexican food!

      Bakery (469)
      Breakfast (452)
      Brunch (452)
      Buffet (79)
      Chinese (804)
      Desserts (402)
      Dim Sum (125)
      Ice Cream (402)
      Indian (251)
      Italian (283)
      Japanese (697)
      Korean (134)
      Mexican (106)
      Pizza (652)
      Pub Food (332)
      Sushi (541)
      Vietnamese (219)

  11. LotusRapper says:

    Primos is a bit of an enigma to me. I’ve never been. And it seems they’ve been at the same location (12/Granville) for at least 20+ years, yet they’re dimmer on the radar scope to most people than Pepitas and Las Margaritas.

  12. Karl says:

    Hi Ben, it seems a lot of the “Mexican” food here in Vancouver are versions of what Canadians want and have become used to. There’s too much of the familiar…tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, etc. It can be very uninspiring when the local scene doesn’t expand beyond the usual.

    The good stuff is in the unfamiliar, regional fare. It might take a bit of travel but once you grab hold of a gordita, salbute or panucho, I promise, you’ll want to go back again and again. Tacos al Pastor, fresh off the spit, pale in comparison to anything available here. Head to Izamal, in the Yucatan, and dig into a Queso Relleno. Get a massive Torta in Mexico City. There’s sensational seafood all over Mexico’s coasts.

    I’m hoping to get to Puebla, Mexico’s gastronomic capital, as soon as possible. Can’t wait to try the Cemitas (fantastically huge sandwiches), Chiles en Nogada (chilies in walnut sauce), the Molotes and the Mixiotes. And, of course, the moles! Fantastic food all around this great country!

    • Ben says:

      Hi Karl: Oh yeah, you are an expert on Mexican food given that all your travel and posts of Mexico. Hey there is a demand for chowdowns and learnings for Mexican cuisine. You game to organize chowdowns? I can help put the word out for you but I can’t do anything else beyond eating! :-) i.e., let this be a project completely under the auspices of The Friday Lunch? Ben

    • LotusRapper says:

      Speaking of tortas, I eat them fairly regularly at Duffin’s Donuts on 41/Knight. Open 24 hrs. They also have banh mi, burgers, pupusas, tamales (recent addition), fried chicken and of course, lots of donuts :-D

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/758380

  13. Pinoy Gourmet says:

    Ben and Karl There are a couple of places that highlight regional Mexican food in Vancouver.There is a place on West Pender near the corner of Homer which has fairly decent Tortas and Carne Asada.Please organize one Karl.Just make sure there are no chapulines ;).I tried some before But I dont think most people are ready for Chapulines or gusanos de maguey con salsa borracha a specialty of Hidalgo.

    • Karl says:

      PG…is the place you mentioned Antojito’s? If so, it looks quite promising. Although the owner is Salvadoran, they seem to have quite authentic Mexican fare.

      Ben…I’m no expert on Mexican food but I am quite good at eating it! I don’t usually go out for Mexican in Vancouver…most often it can be a letdown. Therefore, I’m not that familiar with local Mexican spots.

      I’m always up for a Mexican chowdown. I’ve always wanted to try El Mariachi…even more so after reading your post! It also looks very authentic. Would you be up for a return visit?

      • Ben says:

        Sure thing Karl. I would love to make a return visit to el Mariachi especially if I have people who are familiar with Mexican food along! Just say when. Ben

  14. Pinoy Gourmet says:

    Yes LR,Duffins has good Tortas,Latino Pop and other Latino Yummies.

  15. pinoy gourmet says:

    Ben I am happy to help organize a Mexican Chowdown,Please forward my contact details to Karl if I can be of help

  16. Karl says:

    I would really like to organize something for this Thursday. May 5th is Cinco de Mayo, a rather festive Mexican holiday. Unfortunately, it is also Game 4 for the Canucks. It’d be cool to combine the two, if possible. Not too sure how many Mexican restaurants will have the game on. Did you notice any big screens at El Mariachi?! :)

  17. pinoy gourmet says:

    Hi Karl.I will place a couple of calls to check.Hope to hear from you soon

  18. pinoy gourmet says:

    I called El Mariachi several times yesterday.But all I got was voice mail.Sorry I dont know If they have a large screen TV.The Facebook photos dont show a TV though

  19. PinoyGourmet says:

    Hi All
    I just got a call from El Mariachi,They have a wide screen TV for anybody who wants to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and watch Hockey there

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