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Let’s Eat: Bringing home a bit of Mexico (13 photos)

Jamie Baratta returned from Mexico during the pandemic, bringing its delicious cuisine with him.

Brothers Jamie and Dillon Baratta had always talked about doing something together, such as opening a restaurant. When the pandemic forced Jamie to curtail his travels abroad and return home, the two decided now was the time to give it a try. “We’re both here, and we found a location,” Jamie says.

Norteños Taqueria opened on the corner of Brown Street and Frederica Street in October 2020. Offering Mexican street food made from scratch, the menu is a collection of delicious meals that Jamie learned to cook during his time in Mexico. Many of the recipes are inspired by the regional cuisine of Oaxaca, where he used to live.

“I’s a lot of prep work in the kitchen,” co-owner and head chef Jamie says. “We make our own shells, we make our own salsas, we make pretty much everything.”

The pork, chicken and beef that fill their tacos, taquitos (rolled and crisp-fried corn tortillas,) quesadillas and top their tostadas (fried corn tortillas) are slow-cooked for up to 10 hours. However, the most time-consuming and labour-intensive part is the corn tortillas. “We’re pretty much doing that all day,” Jamie says. On a busy day, he and his staff hand-press about 300 tortillas, made with corn flour imported from Mexico.

Although many of the ingredients Jamie was used to in Oaxaca are not available in Thunder Bay, he was able to source some peppers and spices from a company in Manitoba that imports them from Mexico. Norteños Taqueria has also experimented with other menu items, such as Colombian arepas, inspired by a couple of staff members who are from Colombia.

When the province finally allowed patio dining, the brothers scrambled to get ready and opened up a spacious patio area with eight tables for four and a tiki bar so that people can have a drink while waiting.

“We didn’t expect the pandemic to go on for as long as it did,” Jamie admits. The restaurant has kept busy with takeout, and the chef says they couldn’t have come so far without their employees and the community’s support.

They now have people dining on their patio, but the Barattas look forward to the day when they can start dine-in. “We’re looking at buying the building and having a dining room,” Jamie says about the future.

Located in the heart of Westfort, Norteños Taqueria is a delicious and vibrant addition to the neighbourhood. “We’re trying to bring people to the area,” Jamie says. Since so many restaurants are on the Port Arthur side of town, he is proud of starting a popular Mexican restaurant in Westfort, where his father grew up. “We’d rather be on this side of town for sure,” he says.