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Review: For authentic Mexican cuisine, make a trip to Machete Mexican Ancestral Food

Their massive machetes will leave you wondering why you'd go anywhere else

Somewhere between the first and second bite of more than foot-long Mexican quesadilla, tearing through the corn tortilla, I questioned if this was the most authentic Mexican restaurant in Vancouver.

Most authentic has a lot of connotations… Most, in this sense, means best and better than anything else, while authentic implies true to its roots, close to home, an experience you can usually get in a food’s home country. Saying this a statement, from which other restaurants are judged and compared.

It also heightens the stakes. Is it really authentic for someone from Mexico? How does an outsider like myself even judge authenticity? Sure, I’ve been to Mexico many times, Oaxaca City and Mexico City to name a few. But am I really qualified to judge a Mexican restaurant as authentic?

  • Plus, as a part-time newsletter writer and food reviewer, the chances of me eating at every Mexican restaurant is Vancouver is unlikely. You have to pick and choose. I’ve been to many, but look forward to trying even more!

How to judge authenticity is a big question. The stakes are — in the grand scheme of all things — small. It is food after all. But misleading readers is the worst sin a food reviewer can make. As someone with an audience, I try to take all of this very seriously. 

In spite of it all and my misgivings around how to define authenticity, I feel comfortable proclaiming for everyone to hear, or in this case read, that Machete Mexican Ancestral Food, over at 1007 Main St., is easily the most authentic Mexican food I’ve had in Vancouver.

Started three years ago as a commissary kitchen, and opening up their storefront just over a year ago, Machete isn’t a bougie-designed taco joint hawking one-note tacos and beer, or the industrial-chic, get-in-and-get-out burrito bowl place like Chipotle.

Machete Mexican Ancestral Food

Front desk. Vancity Lookout/Geoff Sharpe

Dotted with traditional art, Halloween-like corn cobs and colourful throw pillows, the space itself feels like a little restaurant you’d stumble on walking through the streets in Oaxaca City. The Mexican music also helps. 

The understated space is in contrast to the menu. Forget your burritos, and skip their tacos, Machete specializes in its namesake machetes, a very long, very packed open-faced quesadilla, chock full of freshly cooked meat, steaming vegetables and salsa. It’s like if Subway launched a Mexican equivalent. 

There are also huaraches, an oblong oval corn tortilla topped with ingredients, or thick corn tortilla gorditas stuffed full of meat, cheese and toppings. I could go on, but you get the idea. This stuff is just different.

The drink menu, all priced at $7, is no slouch either. You could spend a week trying them and still have leftovers. Pozol with a fermented corn and cocoa base, meztli made with cocoa nibs, orange, vanilla, cinnamon and almond milk, and noyolotsin iced latte which is a coca husk infusion with lom, coconut milk and soursop notes… Starbucks has nothing on this place.

I tried the chilatl with coco nibs, amaranth, cinnamon tea and panela sugar while my friend had a coconut lemonade.

Drunk from a bowl, the chilatl is a lot like watery chocolate milk (in a good way), sweet but not too sweet, with the chocolate taste clinging to your mouth long after you finish. It was my first time trying it and it did not disappoint.

The coconut lemonade was also memorable, the coconut cream creating an almost milkshake like quality but lighter and fluffier, with a lime flavour almost as an aftertaste. This would and should be on everyone’s 2024 summer drink list. Don’t forget to scoop out the cream with your straw (I did warn you it was like a milkshake).

Machete Mexican Ancestral Food machete

Machete with chorizo and cheese on one side. Vancity Lookout/Geoff Sharpe

We ordered the rey machete ($26), which is the chef’s choice of three types of meat and two vegetables, along with Oaxaca cheese, guacamole and salsa. I didn’t know what to expect, until the dish’s arrival required moving most table items to fit it.

Filled with peppers, birria, mushrooms, chorizo and I believe chicken, each filling was in its own little distinct section of the tortilla, so cutting it in half risks missing out on half the flavours. Best to slice it into five sections if sharing with a friend.

One of the reasons I call this place authentic is because of the tortillas. Celiacs and traditional Mexican food lovers rejoice, these are real corn tortillas, and not just any corn, but blue corn right from Mexico. It’s authentic, it’s chewy and thick, and you’ll forget all about flour tortillas after eating it. All the tortillas are made fresh in the back kitchen.

Each of the fillings was cooked perfectly. The real stand out was the birria, with its soft intense chili flavours and the chorizo, a meat I usually dislike, but easily won me over with its crumbly texture and intense salty taste. The toppings all worked well together. Good luck eating this on your own. 

  • I know I’ve said previously I don’t like spice, but my only complaint was the lack of it in the machete (it was entirely my mistake because I forgot to add the salsas, which I tried afterwards and were indeed spicey!

We also ordered the birria, carne asada and the flor do calabaza tacos. These were similar to what we had in the machete. Again, the tortillas were the standouts.

Tacos. Vancity Lookout/Geoff Sharpe

I profess that tacos are not my favourite Mexican food. These ones were certainly less ostentatious than others in Vancouver. At about $7 each, they are also pretty large, much more so than you’ll get from other taco spots. I would stick to the other items, as the tacos were fine but nothing extraordinary, especially compared to other dishes.

Machete will make anyone with traditional dietary restrictions like meat or gluten swoon. Corn tortillas, and various vegetarian-only fillings, including cactus, mushrooms and peppers, means you’ll have endless options. 

It should also be noted that while the prices are expensive, the portion sizes are more than generous, considering the quality. Even at about $25 for a machete, you’ll be hard-pressed to finish it yourself. It’s a perfect leftover breakfast the next day.

It’s nice to find a place with both quality and reasonable pricing for the portion size. 

Chatting with restaurant owners sometimes tells you all you need to know about a place. Speaking in a strong Spanish accent, she explained how she ships her products, including the blue corn, all the way from Jalisco where her family resides. 

Authenticity comes from many things. The food, ingredients, the decor, the music, the people, or the love that’s infused into the restaurant, it all adds up. If we judge it based on these criteria, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more authentic Mexican restaurant in Vancouver.

Machete is doing something different that, to this reviewer, stands out in the crowded Mexican restaurant space in Vancouver.

Think I’ve missed another authentic Mexican place, let me know where I should visit next by replying to this newsletter. 

Atmosphere: Bright, relatively spacious with an extra room, many colours. Great lunch spot but not fancy place to bring a date (unless they love food). 

Noise Level: Not very loud, soft music, easy to carry on a conversation. 

Recommended: The machete, anything with chorizo or birria.

What I wish I had ordered: Gordita, enfrijoladas, or any of the cocoa-based drinks.

Drinks: Not licensed.

Price: $$ - $7 tacos (they’re large compared to others), $19 for some meals and $26 for the machete, $6 for drinks.

Other details: Vegetarian, vegan, celiac friendly, wheelchair accessible, 25+ seats, available for delivery on Doordash.

Even more details: The machete is served in a take-out bag used normally for baguettes which I loved. 

Other restaurants:

  • Chancho Tortilleria — popular taco place, which I do recommend, focused on meat. But they are a bit more pricey for the size