Restaurant Review: Rancho Relaxo, Toronto

When you're vegan and your partner is not, choosing restaurants can be difficult. Someone is almost always sacrificing so the other can have a satisfying meals. I'm fortunate enough to have an omnivorous partner who enjoys vegan meals but, I sometimes feel guilty for vetoing some of his favourite restaurants. 

Yesterday we were trying to decide where to celebrate our anniversary. We used to love one particular Mexican place here in Toronto, however, since going vegan their menu choices dwindled down to one single option. Fortunately, I came across Rancho Relaxo. A restaurant that caters to omnivores and vegans alike? A restaurant that doesn't simply remove the cheese, protein, and sour cream from their dishes, but rather offers a full range of vegan substitutes? We had to try it.

Located on College St. between the University of Toronto and Kennsington Market, Rancho Relaxo turned out to be bright and easily identifiable. It was a cloudy day, threatening rain, so no one was on the patio. The door was open allowing for glimpses of bright textiles and the sounds of cheerful, upbeat music. Inside, the restaurant is long and narrow with a bar and washrooms at the far end. We found the decor pretty wonderful: colourful, traditional blankets as table cloths, sombreros, piñatas, paintings and ceramics hung throughout. The atmosphere was casual and relaxed; the staff was friendly and helpful.

As per usual in a Mexican restaurant we were promptly brought a basket of salsas and nachos. The salsa was pretty standard, which is not to say it was anything but good, but I really enjoyed the nachos. They seemed to be made in-house and were super crunchy. We ordered a pitcher of margarita (above, top right) - 'fresh hand squeezed lime, Olmeca Gold Tequila and Triple Sec shaken and served in a salt rim glass - $18', which came in a cocktail pitcher and was poured at our table. The rim was salted a bit heavily for my liking but, the drink itself was super awesome. The serving size was pretty generous for the $18 price tag, however, if you aren't used to Toronto drink prices you might find the whole thing a bit pricey.

I ordered the vegan Chimichanga (above, bottom right) - 'rolled flour tortilla with your choice of fillings, cheese, pico de gallo and sour cream - $10.95'. Chimis used to be my favourite Mexican dish but, I hadn't had one since I stopped eating meat over two years ago. The vegan version, filled with Gardein chicken & steak and Daiya cheese shreds as well as various vegetables, was not exactly what I was expecting. I think my problem was that I still had the meat version in mind. I only ate half of it at the restaurant, because it was big, not because I didn't like it. At home a few hours later I ate the other half and enjoyed it much more than I had in the restaurant. I had had time to think over what I was expecting it to taste like as well as what I know healthy, compassionate, vegan food tastes like. I now want another one. 

(To explain, this chimi was much more fresh and homemade-esque than any I'd had before. I realized that I'd never had one filled with so many vegetables, if any at all, and that was what was throwing me off. But, I love vegetables!)

The sides - rice, refried beans, and house salad - were good, although not the best I've had. The beans and rice lacked a certain spice I'm used to with Mexican foods. The salad more than made up for it though. I'm not sure exactly what was in the house dressing, but it appeared to be a sort of mango vinaigrette. Whatever it was, it was freaking delicious.

All-in-all, Rancho Relaxo was a great experience. We'll definitely be back for more margaritas and to try some of the other menu items. Everything on the menu with a leaf beside its name can be made vegan, so there's lots to try!


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