Seven Lives: Bringing rare Californian-Mexican fusion cuisine to Toronto

By Nicole Colozza

Seven Lives’ signature taco, the “Gobernador,” in front of their store window, paired nicely with the Baja fish taco. (CanCulture/Nicole Colozza)

Seven Lives’ signature taco, the “Gobernador,” in front of their store window, paired nicely with the Baja fish taco. (CanCulture/Nicole Colozza)

A bright red awning, eye-catching bubble letters and the muffled sound of music accompanied by boisterous singing are what calls customers to line up out the door at the Californian-Mexican fusion taco shop, Seven Lives, located in the middle of Kensington Market.

Sean Riehl, an American-born, self-taught chef, moved to Toronto from California in 2010 and created Seven Lives three years later, originally just as a pop-up.

He opened up a permanent shop in one of Toronto’s most popular markets a year later, and his tacos have been a hit ever since.

The menu is inspired by both the California-style tacos Riehl enjoyed growing up and his trips to Tijuana for authentic Mexican tacos.

“It’s a mix of Tex-Mex,” said Seven Lives manager Omar Joel Soria. “Our tacos have fish and meat in them and he tried to mix Californian style with a Mexican style and put it all together.”

The Seven Lives menu features eight different tacos, each for only six dollars, that switch occasionally on a yearly basis.

You can enjoy your tacos with their selection of sides from classic guacamole and freshly made tortilla chips to colourful seafood ceviche.

Their signature taco is called the “Gobernador” and is packed with flavour from a steamy pile-up of smoked marlin, grilled shrimp and cheese. It’s a Seven Lives specialty and the only taco that never gets taken off the menu, according to Soria.

Another crowd favourite is the Baja fish taco that features a golden slab of fried haddock smothered in pico de gallo and cabbage.

The monstrous fried haddock in the Baja fish taco is encased by its two corn tortillas. You can enjoy your tacos in their quaint shop or take them to go for a delicious on-the-run meal. (CanCulture/Nicole Colozza)

The monstrous fried haddock in the Baja fish taco is encased by its two corn tortillas. You can enjoy your tacos in their quaint shop or take them to go for a delicious on-the-run meal. (CanCulture/Nicole Colozza)

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, Seven Lives has provided an enviable roasted mushroom taco option which is available at their second location in the Annex Hotel.

Photo courtesy of vegetarian.nyc via sevenlivesto on Instagram

Part of the fun is watching your delicious taco being put together in their open-concept kitchen. Everything is made in-house, except for the tortillas as per Riehl’s wishes, and some of their fish and seafood comes straight from Kensington Market shops to “support the market businesses.”

The Seven Lives Family

Over the years, Toronto has made itself known as a diverse cultural hub with a wide range of cuisine options for all of your gastronomical needs. However, with the high number of new food spots opening every month, shops need a certain element that stands out to the hungry masses.

Soria explained how the Seven Lives team, or family as they refer to themselves on Instagram, is what sets them apart from other shops. Along with their fusion cuisine, Seven Lives’ friendly atmosphere is what keeps customers coming back for more.

“The lineup, people love it. You can see in reviews that people think our lineup is amazing. They say, ‘The people are so friendly.’ We are more open-minded so we are not just working, we are also having fun,” said Soria.

When you walk through the door, the bright colours and fast-paced music is not the only thing that gives vibrancy to the small shop. Everyone is laughing and singing behind the counter and second to the sight of one of their mouth-watering tacos, watching the Seven Lives family in action is the fastest way to bring a smile to your face.

Seven Lives is located at 69 Kensington Avenue and is open seven days a week from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Coming this summer, Seven Lives’ third location will be opening on 72 Kensington Avenue, just across the market.

Pow Wow Cafe brings taste of traditional Indigenous cuisine to Kensington Market

By Bree Duwyn

(CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

(CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

Pow Wow Cafe, home of the Indian taco, is adding to Toronto’s diverse food scene with a taste of tradition and indigeneity.

Growing up in Orangeville, Ont., chef Shawn Adler, owner of Pow Wow Cafe, first fell in love with cooking in high school. After a few years of experience working for various restaurants, Adler attended a two-year program at Stratford Chefs School.

At 23, Adler opened his first restaurant in Peterborough Ont., named Aasmaabik’s Bakery and Bistro - Aasmaabik being his name in Ojibway. This began a culinary adventure for Adler as he opened another handful of restaurants, including The Flying Chestnut Kitchen in Eugenia, Ont.

After selling a few of his restaurants, Adler decided to try out the culinary scene in Toronto. Known for its diverse array of vintage shops, cozy restaurants and colourful art pieces, Kensington Market delivers a multitude of cultures, making it the perfect place for Pow Wow Cafe to open its doors in October 2016.

Adler wanted to bring Indian tacos, differing from regular tacos because of the use of fry bread instead of tortilla shells, to Toronto and got the inspiration for their Kensington Market restaurant through his experience catering at various powwows.

A powwow is an Indigenous ceremony filled with dancing, singing (featuring drum circles) and feasting. It is a cultural and spiritual experience that encourages community gathering and celebration.

“I love catering because it poses a challenge. I like it because it’s often in a barn or the fields. It’s cool to create a field kitchen and do things other people can't do,” said Alder.

Adler holds pride in the originality and value of Pow Wow Cafe’s food, including their famous brunch that has people lining up out the door on the weekends.

“This cuisine is not a trend, it's here to stay,” said Adler.

Pow Wow Cafe also supports the Kensington Market community by sourcing their produce from shops within the neighbourhood, as well as Indigenous suppliers.

The restaurant keeps the ingenuity of Indigenous food alive through a variety of dishes based around fry bread. This includes their extensive brunch menu that features eggs, oatmeal and more.

Pow Wow Cafe’s brunch, displayed on a wooden board, is a big hit with the locals and new visitors. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

Pow Wow Cafe’s brunch, displayed on a wooden board, is a big hit with the locals and new visitors. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

Adler’s plans are to further expand Pow Wow Cafe and continue to expose people to Indigenous cuisine.

“I knew in Toronto, there wasn't anyone doing cuisine like we were doing,” said Adler, “So I found this location and the rest is history,” he said.

You gotta try this…

Being someone who thoroughly enjoys food, I am always ready to try out new dishes. After being welcomed by the pleasant staff, I felt comfortably at home inside the cozy restaurant.

Adler advised me that the Indian taco topped with beef was the best choice if I wanted to enjoy a traditional experience.

The appetizers and Indian taco menu are displayed promptly on a chalkboard of Pow Wow Cafe’s wall. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

The appetizers and Indian taco menu are displayed promptly on a chalkboard of Pow Wow Cafe’s wall. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

The taco begins with sweet, melt in your mouth fry bread and beef chili topped with cumin sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cheese, jalapeños, cilantro, sprouts and flowers, including calendula and pansies.

A traditional beef Indian taco with all the fixings at the price of $15. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

A traditional beef Indian taco with all the fixings at the price of $15. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

It was incredibly filling and delicious, not to mention wonderfully plated. All the elements of the taco went great together, producing an abundance of flavour and texture. The traditional beef Indian taco is definitely a perfect meal on a chilly day.

If you're not one for beef, Pow Wow Cafe also offers a chicken shawarma and seafood Indian taco. For any vegetarians, a red lentil coconut curry option is available.

The restaurant changes its menu often to offer various sensational combos of Indian tacos, but the traditional beef taco will always remain. It's definitely worth taking a trip to Kensington Market or stopping by Pow Wow Cafe whenever you're in the area to grab an authentic Indian taco or try their famous brunch.

Pow Wow Cafe is located at 213 Augusta Ave. and is open seven days a week.