Quesadillas in the Sub-Arctic

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  06.29.09 | 1:01 PM ET

Photo by Eva Holland

I’m no Mexican food addict, but I am perpetually fascinated by incongruous culinary offerings in unlikely locales—so when I spotted Sanchez Cantina, “Yukon’s Only TRUE Mexican Restaurant,” not long after my arrival in Whitehorse, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist. Once several locals had assured me that it was “really good,” I grew even more curious—after all, I was in the Canadian sub-arctic, more than 3,000 miles north of the Mexican border, in a town of 20,000 where many people keep freezers full of moose meat. How “true” or “good” could it be?

Since my Mexican food experience is largely limited to San Francisco burritos, Chipotle lunch stops and an Acapulco hotel buffet eight years ago, I recruited a Mexican traveler who was also staying at the local hostel, a kayaking guide from southern Baja, to help find out. Like me, he was skeptical at first—but before we’d even entered the restaurant, he started changing his tune. “Jarritos!” he exclaimed when we were still 15 feet from the door—he’d spotted someone drinking a bottle of the popular Mexican soft drink on the patio. The next surprise was the cactus salad on the menu; “How do they get cactus up here?” Ramon wondered. We settled in, feeling increasingly confident about the impending meal’s quality, if not its carbon footprint.

An hour later, we were stuffed full of chiles rellenos, a chicken quesadilla, Pacifico beer and heaps of rice and beans that my Mexican friend declared to be “just like my mother makes.” He chatted happily in Spanish with the owner-operators, a family from Veracruz, while I tried to digest the fact that I’d probably just had the first “true” Mexican meal of my life—in Whitehorse, of all places.

The moral of the story? When you think you know what to expect from a place, the world has a funny and often wonderful way of proving you wrong. Oh, and also? All you Mexican food lovers far removed from Mexico: Don’t give up hope just yet.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

5 Comments for Quesadillas in the Sub-Arctic

Hal Amen 06.29.09 | 4:11 PM ET

Great find, Eva! I’m still a little skeptical, so I might just have to go try it myself…

Now if I could only find one in South America. :(

Eva Holland 06.29.09 | 7:02 PM ET

Yes, Hal, you’ll have to come up here and see what you think! And who knows, maybe you’ll stumble across a killer Mexican joint somewhere in Chile.

Doug Mack 06.29.09 | 9:21 PM ET

My mother just got back from Iceland, where she spotted a Mexican restaurant in Reykjavik. Sadly, she did not go in, so I have no idea if it was at all authentic (or tasty), nor can I answer the pressing question of whether or not they serve any Icelandic-Mexican fusion, such as puffin-chiladas.

Eva Holland 06.29.09 | 9:39 PM ET

Oooh, Doug, you bring up a good point re: fusion. There was none of that here (a caribourrito could be interesting, no?) though I have seen elk dogs being sold by hot dog vendors elsewhere in town.

Charo 06.30.09 | 4:32 PM ET

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