Ottawa isn’t typically known for its Mexican churros, but that is something Diana Martinez-Ortega and Ulises Ortega want to change with their business La Catrina.
The husband and wife team have expanded their churro cart, Mr. Churritos, into a full café in the ByWard Market serving the fried dough dessert and sandwiches.
Diana said they wanted to bring something new to Ottawa’s Mexican food market that wasn’t just donkeys and sombreros.
“Mexico is much more than that so we wanted to bring up a part of Mexico that is full of culture, it represents kind of the party spirit Mexicans have,” she said.
The restaurant is themed around the Mexican Day of the Dead, the holiday around Halloween when people dress up in costumes and paint their faces to resemble skulls. “La Catrina” is the name given to the “dame of death” skeleton at the centre of the celebration.
“All of Mexico celebrates it, it’s a big thing and it kind of encompasses all the different facets like music, partying, religion, art…. so all these different elements that I think Mexicans have, they all come together for that celebration,” Diana said.
Ulises said the idea to serve churros came after living in Ottawa for a number of years, but realizing there was nowhere that served the traditional dessert. Before starting their food cart in 2013, Ulises said he spent six months in Mexico City learning how to make them.
“I was learning as I go and now I feel very comfortable that I make the best churros in town,” he said.
La Catrina makes the dessert many different ways, including rolled in cinnamon and sugar, filled with chocolate sauce and as ice cream sandwiches.
The couple started with the churro cart to begin with because people in Ottawa first had to be introduced to the idea, since nowhere else in the city was making them. She said the plan was to open an authentic café, but they had to start slowly.
“Not a lot of people knew what a churro was so we needed kind of like that push to be everywhere doing festivals, doing private events,” she said. “The first festival we did we gave the churros for a dollar just for the people to be like ‘I don’t know what it is but it’s $1.’”
“We’re Mexicans, we’re far from home so for us it’s very important for us to keep our culture and represent it well, we don’t want Canadians going to a place that is misrepresenting Mexico.”
Ottawa has a small Mexican community, around 3,000 in the capital region, but she said being able to get churros has been important to them. Other restaurants have started serving churros as well, but they don't focus on them in the same way as La Catrina.
“There are some that are good, there are some that are really bad… I’ve had some that I have to put in the garbage because it just doesn’t taste good at all,” Diana said.
“For us it’s our main product so we want people to come and enjoy the churros and try the different ways and everything,” Ulises said.
La Catrina is located at 105 Clarence St. and is open Monday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday to Thursday from 12 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.