La Patrona’s authentic Mexican atmosphere and fiery cuisine are worth the trek
Things sure have changed since I was a high school student in Sherwood Park, a time at which no one would have considered our little bedroom community east of town a culinary destination, much less the site of some of the better Mexican food to be found locally. I don’t think we even had a Taco Time back then.
La Patrona is the bricks and mortar follow-on to the delightful Case12Doce Mexican food truck, with said construction elements providing a better-appointed venue for tequila drinks, a more elaborate menu and flat-screen TVs. They seem to be attracting a lot of patrons (albeit, patrons who take their meals at respectable hours and are home by eight) and it actually took a couple of tries to book a table at La Patrona during peak hours.
Its cozy nook in one of Sherwood Park’s heritage strip malls fits in a fair amount of tidy Mexican “atmosphere,” from barn board-framed outlaw photos to a partition topped with lithe Dia del Muertos figurines to a corrugated metal bar lined with barstools and overseen by a tentacled Aztec sun clock. We were seated on the other side of a window from a brightly lit, immaculately clean scullery and prep area, where a lad in spotless whites and earbuds tidily sliced limes and chopped cilantro. Plastic bins featuring numerous varieties of dried chili peppers (ancho, guajillo, habanero, chipotle, California, Jamaica, pasilla, Morita, etc.), the complex heart and flavourful fire of the present cuisine, loomed nearby.
I was briefly a chirpy post-adolescent in Sherwood Park, so I was charmed to have one as my server. She did not disappoint, marching us through the menu at a polite clip with recommendations at the ready and an entreaty to eat all the lettuce that came with the Quesadillas Doradas ($10). She made us promise. The appetizer is a pleasing twist on the formula of savory-thing-inside-crunchy-thing with dip: three folded-over fried corn tortillas filled with potatoes and feta cheese, topped with fresh salsa and sour cream, laid on a bed of shredded lettuce in light lime vinaigrette. The server was right, the fresh, tangy salad mingled perfectly with the creamy filling and golden tortilla. A deep red dollop of the house hot sauce added a touch of smoke and a substantial kick.
It was a good thing we had appies. Bad timing saw us order just after an adjacent table of eight and our entrees took about 45 minutes to arrive. Our server remained chipper but couldn’t quite disguise her disappointment. We also regretted the circumstances, but at least the food was really good. And there was lots of it.
Co-diner’s Hugo Taco ($17) manifested as a sizzling skillet of sautéed onions, just-cooked jalapenos, crumbled house-made chorizo and smoked sirloin, draped with six corn tortillas fresh off the grill and sided with the house salsa verde. In my view, tacos should extol well-prepared meat above all, and the sausage and robustly smoky beef were in perfect harmony. Co-diner found that dicing the spears of grill-charred cilantro and distributing them throughout the taco kept them from blowing her head off.
My torta ($15) was of the cochinita variety, a grilled torpedo roll laden with pork loin marinated in orange juice and Mexican spices (achiote, cumin, oregano) and topped with tomato, cilantro, lettuce and plenty of mayo. The pork was cooked in a banana leaf to steamy, annatto-stained tatters that made for a succulent, juicy filling to which pickled red onions lent a crunchy, sweet, vinegary tang. Messy, but totally satisfying, and some concealed habanero chilies contributed a slow-building but righteous heat.
I love me some pickles on the side and the slices of carrot, jalapeno and onion imbued with oregano and cumin deserve mention. The spears of jalapeno distributed their heat to everything else but they were so good, so firm and crunchy, so pungently spicy, I couldn’t resist. Like everything else we ate, the heat was all artfully balanced with flavour.
My entrée was such that I didn’t get that far into my side of beans ($5), which the server endorsed, boasting they were cooked in water used to make the chorizo. Once again, she was accurate. The rust-coloured stew of ground chilies, chorizo flecks and deliquescing pinto beans was earthy and rich (and salty) and would make a great meal on its own with some hot tortillas and cerveza.
The unexpected duration of the meal forced us to forgo dessert, but everything else we had indicated a formidable kitchen that would probably nail the sweets as well, and I did see a very attractive flan go by. Fans of Calle Mexico, Huma, Three Amigos or Tres Carnales owe themselves a field trip to Sherwood Park, for La Patrona easily ranks with the best Mexican food in town.