Sweet and spicy margaritas, golden fried tortilla chips to dunk in bright and bold salsas, and one of the most incredibly tender octopus dishes await at Vancouver's Monarca Cucina, a new modern Mexican restaurant that opened in April.
Located at 181 Carrall St. (in the vacated Coquille space) in Gastown, Monarca Cocina Mexicana is the second restaurant overseen by Veracruz, Mexico native Chef Francisco Higareda, who previously launched Ophelia restaurant for the Flying PIg group in Olympic Village.
Monarca's name is a nod to Higareda's father, who lived near the famous Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán, Mexico; the vibrant winged creatures also play a special role in Mexican culture, as they are thought to represent the spirits of ancestors fluttering in for a visit with loved ones.
The beautiful restaurant space mixes art deco with lush, moody, tropical vibes, but you'll want to make sure to pop into the restroom area to see a stunning art installation of colourful skulls.
Open for lunch, happy hour, and dinner, Monarca has an exciting menu of creative dishes that melds classic and contemporary flavours and approaches.
In addition to a full bar with their own cocktail creations, there are several margaritas to choose from, including the "Picante" spicy option, or the "Del Sol," made with tequila's smoky sibling, mezcal. There's even a bright and sunny non-alcoholic pineapple marg, as well as a few other spirit-free bevs. However, if you want to stay in the "spirits" of Mexico, you can sample tequila by the flight, or go for a pour of one of Monarca's many agave options from their extensive list. You can also get a little taste of south-of-the-border sunshine thanks to the many Mexican beers they've got in stock.
Monarca's dinner menu is split into a few categories, with dishes spanning from super-approachable and often perfectly shareable plates, like a gooey skillet of queso studded with chorizo and mushrooms to fold into warm tortillas or an aguachile of steak and tuna crudo, where the proteins come in a spicy broth.
An adventurous main course choice is Higareda's "Pulpo a la Brasas." The pulpo - octopus - is marinated to near fork-tender status in salsa roja then chargrilled, and served with new potatoes, Brussels sprouts, a fiery chili garlic aioli, arugula, and blue cheese crumbs.
In addition to big, bold mains like the octopus, Monarca has a whole selection of steaks: Ribeye, skirt, or tenderloin, as well as a few taco options, like prawns with melty Oaxacan cheese.
There are lots of ways to build a fun mix-and-match meal between starters, sides, and mains, and your meal starts off with some fried tortillas you can break into chips to dunk in a trio of fresh salsas, including a tongue-tingling habañero one.
@vancouverisawesome Mexican food, margs, and a fun bathroom?! I’m in! #forkingawesome #vancouverbc #mexicanfood #newrestaurant ♬ The Recipe - Aluna & KAYTRANADA