Taqueria Marina is the above ground counterpart to Shaolin, the underground Southeast Asian restaurant with whom it shares a kitchen. The sister late-night food spots make up two thirds of the James Street North restaurants owned by Born and Raised Restaurant owner, Chef Vittorio Colacitti. You can order from both Taqueria Marina and Shaolin’s menu from Taqueria Marina’s space.
Once you walk into Taqueria Marina and pass the stairs leading down to Shaolin, a decorative couch sits on your right and the bar on your left. You seat yourself at one of the tables for either two or four. There is an exposed brick wall covered in photographs of notable Hamiltonians. The restaurant boasts low-lighting, exposed pipes and tasteful greenery.
Taqueria Marina’s head chef is Sebastian Sanchez. The restaurant is named after Sanchez’s great-grandmother, Marina, who opened a fonda, a small, home-like restaurant, in 1912 in Autlan, Mexico. The menu at Taqueria Marina consists of shareable appetizers, tacos, cocktails, beer and an ever-growing and changing selection of tequila and mezcal.
True to its name, Taqueria Marina prides itself on its tacos. The tortillas are made from heirloom Mexican corn that undergo a 48 hour soaking and hand-grinding process. A wood-fired oven then roasts the ingredients for the tacos. With four very different tacos, there’s something for everyone.
Take the 5 or 51 from campus heading downtown for about 20 minutes until you reach Main Street West at MacNab Street South. From the bus stop, it’s about a 15-minute walk. Continue on Main Street West until you reach James Street North, where you turn left. Opposite Born and Raised Restaurant at James Street North and Robert Street, Taqueria Marina is also located on the left.
Tacos are $7 each. Shareable appetizer ranges from $5.00 to $15.00. Beer starts at $5 and cocktails start at $12. The tequila and mescal list is always changing. Check their socials for details on weekly specials.
Shaolin’s menu is a little more expensive, with prices ranging from $5 for Sweet and Spicy Nuts to $20 for an extra-large Wonton Soup. Drinks range from $12 to $16. Desserts are under $6.
Definitely try the Mole de Coco, a shrimp taco with coconut-cashew mole and salsa verde. True to its word, the tortilla is delicious and the coconut-cashew mole works wonderfully with the shrimp, managing to be flavourful without being overpowering.
Flip your menu and peruse Shaolin’s options as well. I’d recommend the Shaolin Bao. With kung-fu chicken, pickles and scallions on a soft steamed bun, these addictive baos are well-seasoned and full-flavoured.
I found the decor really interesting. It’s both casual and candlelit, with a brick wall meeting a metal ceiling. From the photographs on the wall to the painted pumpkins celebrating the Day of the Dead, there was always something to look at.
Taqueria Marina is a great place to go with a small group of friends. It’s casual enough in vibe and menu, but also feels intimate and special with its candlelit tables and cozy space. With the shareable items and the finger food, it’s fun, social and messy food.
The double menu also means that there’s something for everyone. There are vegan and gluten-free options and our server asked us if we had any allergies. The two cuisines produce a variety that will likely satisfy many individual tastes.
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