Norteño’s Taqueria Serves Up Mexican Cuisine
Story by Sue Pretty, Photos by Keegan Richard
Brothers Jamie and Dillon Baratta didn’t let COVID-19 get in the way of their plans to open Thunder Bay’s newest taqueria. In fact, the new eatery flourished because of the virus.
Jamie had been in Mexico, travelling to Mexico City and Puerto Escondido (a port town on Mexico’s Pacific coast) as well as other areas, cooking, teaching English to locals, and even helping to start a couple hostels. When brother (and co-owner) Dillon would visit, it was only natural for him to partake in the tasty local cuisine. Opening a restaurant had been an idea in Jamie’s head for quite a few years, and when he returned from Mexico due to the virus, he felt the time was now.
“We felt that there were no real Mexican restaurants in Fort William, so the location was an easy choice for us,” he says. “Without the pandemic, Norteños Taqueria probably would have never happened. I wouldn’t say COVID has affected us too much because we were aware of the oncoming challenges with the pandemic, so we were able to plan around it.” The name, Norteños Taqueria, was an easy choice, the brothers note, as norteños means “people from the north” in Spanish, which seemed like a perfect fit for a taco shop opening in northern Ontario.
The menu is a taco lover’s dream. All the shells are made of corn flour and are therefore gluten-free. On a busy day, they produce over 200 tortilla shells, all made by hand on a cast-iron tortilla press. A good taco deserves a great tortilla, and one can taste how absolutely fresh these are. You won’t find your standard fare of ground beef in these tacos—choose from braised pork shoulder, spicy pulled chicken, braised beef, or lentils. These fillings are used as well for their quesadillas, taquitos, and tostadas . The tortas are a sandwich-style dish (served on a Roma bakery bun) and customers will have the tough decision to decide between pork belly, fried chicken, or “cheese steak.” Diners have a choice of red or green salsa, both made fresh in-house. And don’t forget to try the esquites—roasted corn with crema, parmesan cheese, chili powder, and roasted jalapeño—for the ultimate taste sensation.
“I really wanted to make the menu as close to Mexican street food as possible,” Jamie says. “We spent months trying to source Mexican ingredients and testing the menu in order to make that happen. We were able to import both the corn flour and also some select peppers straight from Mexico. Some of the recipes I actually got straight from a Mexican family in Oaxaca.”
And how has the response been? “The response has been absolutely amazing,” Jamie says enthusiastically. “We have been way busier than expected. We really appreciate all the love people in town have shown us; especially the people of Westfort. Our staff have also been incredible. Being so busy has meant that the staff has had to work around the clock to keep up with the demand. We can’t thank them enough.”
There are some familial ties here too. “It really means alot to my brother and I to be located in Westfort,” he says. “Our father grew up in a house a few blocks from here, where our grandfather owned and operated a hardware store that people still ask me about today. All in all we couldn’t be happier about opening Norteños and bringing Mexican food to Westfort.”Norteño’s Taqueria is located at 1501 Brown Street. They are open every day from 10:30 am–8 pm. Visit nortenostaqueria.com or find them on Facebook.