Native Tongues Taqueria generates buzz with smashing pop-up

Taco or No Taco? The real question is how many of them to get.

The crowd cheered heartily as the luchador pinned his unmasked opponent to the mat and Pat Boone’s "Speedy Gonzales" blasted from the speakers. Smartphone flashes fired from all sides as the masked wrestler raised his arms in victory.

“My friends in Toronto would never believe that I’m here right now,” said the man waiting for tacos, standing in front of me in the line that snaked around half of the room.

It was certainly an unlikely scene for a Monday night at the Royal Canadian Legion #1 in Calgary, but such was the third instalment of Taco or No Taco, a pop-up event dreamed up by chef Cody Willis, the soon-to-be owner of Native Tongues Taqueria, slated to open in spring 2014.

Willis was excited to have access to a full kitchen at the legion this time around, as he was only able to use part of a kitchen at a local restaurant for previous events. To embellish the experience for the holidays, Willis also teamed up with Stampede Wrestling to bring some luchadores to the party.

The past two versions of Taco or No Taco held earlier this year were both resounding successes, with diners lined up out the door for a taste of classic tacos and Mexican street food, as well as original creations like the oyster po’ boy taco or the “shrimp roll” taco, complete with a whole shrimp head. The buzz around this occasion was no different, with tickets selling out within the two weeks prior.

An all-out, “championship” brawl served as the finale to the pro wrestling portion of the evening, but to me, the main attraction was the food, and Willis and his team delivered. My friend and I shared one of each of the items on the menu, which like at previous Taco or No Taco events, were $5 across the board. It was hard to pick a favourite between the melt-in-your-mouth tender beef tongue, and the ceviche that featured big, meaty pieces of fish on a crispy tostada, topped with pickled ginger. The flautas were another highlight — deep-fried tortillas stuffed with soft, spicy potato mixture. For dessert, we were treated with a rich and cinnamony black bean and chocolate sorbet.

While the alcohol selection at the legion was a little sparse, Native Tongues’s menu promises to be big on the booze, partially thanks to Willis’s brother Jesse, co-owner of Vine Arts, a specialty wine store in Calgary. Previous pop-ups featured mezcal cocktails, while the Native Tongues website notes bourbon as a focus.

If the success of Taco or No Taco is any indication, we’ve got our bets on Native Tongues being one of Calgary’s hottest spots in the new year.