The man in the video was almost tearful in his gratitude for the City of Ottawa plow driver who helped him clear his Rideau business driveway. By the tail end of the occupation emotions had been scraped raw and gestures of kindness were the currency in which many Ottawans traded. This was my introduction to Hugo Crespo and his shop Si Senor, located at 506 Rideau St.
It was a bitter wet-cold day when I popped by the colourful shop to enjoy some Mexican flavours and behind the counter, the team was busily working away. I placed my order for a three-taco combo ($20.50) and sat down at one of the three tables. In short order my food arrived, warming the air around me and stimulating the appetite.
Hugo (Mexico City) and his wife and business partner Mandi (Nebraska), came to Ottawa in 2008 so that she could pursue her Masters in Music. As a child, Hugo grew up in a restaurant environment and decades later he continued cooking the recipes of his mother and grandmother. In Ottawa his working life took him into imports and sales and into banking which left him wondering about finally opening an eatery. He experimented with other traditional recipes and in March of 2019 he and Mandi opened Si Senor.
I'm particularly fond of Conchinita Pibil, a slow-cooked pork simmered in orange, annato and guajillo peppers but what became a revelation to me was the Suadero crispy brisket taco. I'd not ever had Suadero but the roast character and the texture of that beef became ingredients in and of themselves and this is now part of my usual order.
The Pozole con Pollo here is first-rate. It's classified as a soup but this robust version is closer to a stew and unless this is all you are eating, it's best shared. It's loaded with tender shredded chicken, hominy corn, oregano and served with sides like radishes, onions, lettuce, cilantro and hot salsa. Satisfying and filling and as authentic as it's likely to get. The same is true of the chips which are house-made and arrive sizzling from the fryer alongside the nicest and most dense guacamole I've had in decades. This was a substantial lunch so how was I to finish those three mini churros that came with my meal? Problem solved with the first bite. And no I certainly didn't need the sinful caramel dipping sauce that came with them but I realized the sauce was just a lubricant to ensure that everything would go down easily.
As I sat enjoying my overstuffed and juicy tacos, one police officer after another entered until five of them were milling about and waiting for something without ordering. It wasn't long before brown bags were handed to the cops and they left.
Hours later I learned that the officers were picking up a warm lunch that had been gifted to them, and other city workers, by someone in Toronto who had purchased 100 burritos so that they might be given to those who had helped bring the occupation to an end. In the days that followed, others purchased gift certificates and asked that Si Senor use them to feed anyone in need of a meal. As Hugo put it to me “We're very blessed to be part of this adventure”. Personally, I prefer to think that it's these acts of decency that are the true demonstrations of what it means to be Canadian. A capacity for empathy as a force that unites.
Special Side Note: On Thursdays Quesabirrias (lamb or beef filled Quesadillas) are on at two for $10. They are served with a house-made dipping consomme and the entire thing is a luscious, messy treat. Do not eat in the car.
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