Dona Cata Mexican Restaurant

by Ed Lau on February 3, 2010

Mexican food in Vancouver has been somewhat of a revelation for me. For most of my life, I’ve thought that what they serve at Taco Bell despite it’s grossness is what they actually serve in Mexico. Instead, I discover that that is an Americanized, mass produced version…with extra cheese. It’s just like how PF Chang or Manchu Wok isn’t really Chinese food. Real Mexican food is much more simple than a six-layered Buritacodito Supreme. It’s good ingredients prepared simply. I’ve enjoyed my visits to Salsa and Agave as well as La Taqueria but no quest for tacos would really be complete without a visit to the restaurant that has taken best Latin food in Vancouver magazine the past three years, Dona Cata.

Strangely, I used to work a mere block and a half away from this place a bit more than two years ago now and have never been. Maybe because I usually went South rather than North for food or sometimes, I’d try to drive as far away as possible to get away from the store. Either way, I wish I knew about this place since eating here would’ve been a fantastic lunch hour. The dining area could be described as “cozy” with about ten tables, room for roughly 20-25 diners.

When I arrived, there was live music as well with a lady singing Spanish ballads (as well as that song where every verse ends with “TEQUILA!”). The kitchen is mostly open and the smell of various meats cooking engulfs you as you walk in the door.

As I got to my seat, my server brought me a small plate of complementary tortilla chips, which was more exciting than usual since it gave me the opportunity to try all the different salsas at my disposal.

Separating the kitchen and dining area is a salsa bar with ten different variations. They start mild on the left and go all the way to inferno on the right, which is just straight up ominous looking black/red chili peppers. Now, I wasn’t aware of this order system or which ones were hot or not as they’re mostly labeled in Spanish and my knowledge of the Spanish language is limited to the quasi-Spanish sometimes found in popular hip-hop and R&B lyrics. I got lucky at first and tried some of the milder salsas, thinking they were all going to be on this side of a light tingle.

I ordered four tacos since that seems to be the norm and I thought I should order something similar to what I had at the other places to give a rough comparison. Tacos are $2 a piece and $2.50 if you want them topped with cheese. I had the Al Pastor (marinated pork loin, slow-roasted with spices, chiles and pineapple), Bisteck (chopped steak), Carnitas (succulent pieces of slow roasted pulled pork and herbs) and the Barbacoa de Borrego (slow-braised lamb loin in a secret house blend of chiles and spices).

Out of the four, I probably enjoyed the two pork tacos the best. The pineapple in the Al Pastor gave it a little unexpected sweetness that was really nice and tangy and I think I picked a good, hotter salsa to balance it. Unfortunately, my Bisteck was rather dry and after I tried it with just a little lime, I had to douse it with salsa to give it flavor. I picked an not-that-suspicious looking green salsa on the right side of the bar and went to town.

Big mistake. I didn’t want to look like a moron in the restaurant and run around waving my arms yelling “OH GOOD GOD IT BURNS!” but that’s pretty much what I felt like doing. It started a wildfire in my mouth and I had to finish my drink and another plus a good five minutes of trying some mind over matter to put it out.

As I was finishing up, I commented to my server that I loved the salsas except for the fact that one of them burned a hole in my mouth, at which point I learned how the degree of hotness works. Just for kicks and because I’m a complete idiot, I picked up one of those ominous looking peppers on the right end of the table and took a small bite as well. Let me tell you…it’s as if Lucifer himself came out of hell and sucker punched you right in the mouth. If you want to dump some burning coals in your mouth, be my guest but I thought I should warn you here. I know some of you are going to do it but for the rest of you much smarter people, don’t do it.

I should note that Dona Cata also serves a variety of other authentic looking Mexican dishes. The table beside me had a very good looking chicken dish that I was too full to order but I’ll definitely be getting it next time. They also serve a variety of beers as well as Jarritos sodas, which range from very good to extremely terrible (stay the hell away from the strawberry and guava ones).

How does it compare? Apart from the disappointing steak taco, I enjoyed Dona Cata a lot. The salsas were delicious if you stay away from the last two (three including the chili peppers) and I enjoyed the atmosphere and friendly service. You also get a bit more for your money ($2 a taco is the cheapest yet). Overall, Dona Cata is a good pick for Mexican food in Vancouver…and plus you don’t have to deal with the downtown traffic that you’d encounter if you went to the other two.

Doña Cata Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

in Food and Fine Dining,Photography

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

george froehlich February 4, 2010 at 10:30 am

I think you captured the essence and the food of the place perfectly. We went last year and like you just loved it. And besides the owners are really nice too. It’s wonderful that finally we are getting some real Mexican food in Vancouver instead of all that Tex Mex crap. Loved the photo’s too. Nice job.


Brett @ February 4, 2010 at 11:55 pm

haha Taco Bell the odd time never heart anyone! I have never been to this place but I recently went to a Mexican place on Davie called Lolita. Small place but the food was good. I’ll have to check this place out next time I crave Mexican.


mark @ di blogospheree February 5, 2010 at 10:58 pm

yummi… make me hungry dude mexican restaurant is good and i like the food from mexican i visit dona cata dude….i hope in dona cata i can found some food i like….


Michael Kwan February 6, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I’ve been once and the food was pretty good. The assortment of salsas is pretty cool, though I wasn’t really sure what to make of the ambience.


Silvia February 26, 2010 at 6:36 am

Now I am very hungry at this time.
Found some of the good online reviews of this restaurant.


Tickets To Mauritus February 11, 2011 at 8:48 am

I am very hungry right now .
Found some of the reviews of this restaurant.


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