Simple food done rightPublished on March 9, 2015

  • Eli Saikaley (left) with his son Sebastian.

Taco fans in Ottawa can now get their fix at a fun new taqueria which just opened in the Glebe. Encino Taco Shop is serving up authentic, freshly made tacos in a hip, inviting space that offers both sit-down and takeout service. 

A fiery red awning beckons hungry patrons in off bustling Bank Street near Fifth Avenue, just a few blocks from Lansdowne Park. Inside, a wall of west-facing windows floods the restaurant with natural light and rough-hewn wood gives the place a cosy, organic feel. The décor is effective and appropriate since Encino isn’t just a place in California, it’s also the Spanish word for a variety of majestic West Coast oak trees.

Everything is prepared in-house, from scratch. “As proud local business owners, we are committed to working with area suppliers to provide our guests with the freshest, most flavourful ingredients. For example, we’ll be getting all our meat from Stéphane (Sauvé) at the Glebe Meat Market, to ensure quality and consistency,” notes owner Eli Saikaley.

Corn and flour tortillas come topped with a variety of tasty fillings, including chicken, beef, pork, fish and vegetarian options. The bill of fare also features burritos, salads and more. “We wanted to keep the menu relatively short so we can focus on doing a really good job of preparing everything to perfection,” explains Eli. “We’ll certainly consider adding other items such as breakfast burritos once we’ve had a bit of time to make sure everything is running smoothly.”

Eli is leveraging not only his 30-plus years of local business experience as the owner of Silver Scissors Salon, located next door to Encino, but also his family’s decades of history as restaurateurs in Ottawa. “I worked in restaurants when I was younger and have lots of relatives in the business whom I can rely upon for good advice,” says Eli. He’s also enlisted a talented business partner for this new venture " Abbis Mahmoud, whose stable of successful local bars and restaurants includes Izakaya and the Moscow Tea Room. While Eli focused on getting Encino opened, his son Sebastian is now serving as the restaurant’s general manager. He’s a recent business graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several Mexican restaurants.

Encino has just under two dozen seats, including a communal table, a window-side counter with stools and a collection of lofty perches on an interior balcony. For now, Encino is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., but will keep longer hours when there are events on at nearby TD Place. Eli wisely started paperwork and planning six months ago, so Encino had its liquor licence by opening day. The months of preparation included a flurry of construction work to strip down and rework the space, transforming what was previously Whole Foods’ Ottawa administrative location prior to the store’s opening last November. 

“We are proud to offer an experience that is unique, and feel we can do so because we are not a franchise or part of a big restaurant chain,” notes Eli. While its vibe is intensely casual, Encino is no mere taco shack; visit and you’ll find a slightly more upscale experience thanks to the calibre of the food and the fun ambience of the busy little restaurant. Funky music adds an appealing counterpoint to the sights and sounds of delicious food being prepared in their efficient, open kitchen.

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