If you’re planning on eating at Ahora, be sure to bring an appetite, a good attitude, and a GPS. My partner and I walked up and down Dalhousie, confused and hungry, searching for a restaurant we were beginning to suspect didn’t exist. Finally, after ten minutes of aimless wandering, we discovered a nondescript door that led either to a magical realm or Ahora. It turned out to be the latter.
Located in the heart of downtown Ottawa, we stepped over the threshold, trading the clamour of weekend clubbing for a corridor enveloped in silence. A plaque tacked to the wall displayed a glowing review from 2004, making us wonder what the quality had been like since then. At the far end of the hallway, disappearing around a corner into shadow, was a flight of rickety steps. Stomachs grumbling, we risked the troublesome descent.
At the bottom, we entered a whirlwind of noise and colour. Immediately, we were greeted by a host with a pleasant persona who led us past a maze of tables to our own in the back corner. We felt cramped, Ahora being a small square dining room packed with bodies (I won’t even bother getting into the details about my expedition to the bathroom). And it was loud—very loud—yet it was not a cacophonous drone, but a lively buzz of chatter and laughter. A vibrancy trembled throughout the restaurant. Each guest appeared in good spirits, enjoying themselves and the swell of ebullient energy.
The menu boasts a large selection of food from nachos to burritos to enchiladas. What Ahora lacked in proper accessibility, it makes up for in accommodating certain dietary restrictions, offering numerous vegetarian and gluten-free options. While we waited for the server, my partner and I were left to observe our surroundings more closely. It seemed like a rainbow threw up all over the place. Every inch of wall is painted in bold contrasting colours. Art is hung sporadically along all major walls. A tad overwhelming, it is fair to say that each individual piece is beautiful and consistent with the theme of flowers and farm animals.
We continued to wait for our server, Ahora testing our patience, forcing us to sit through a confusing mix of traditional Mexican music, David Bowie, and Justin Bieber. Eventually, we realized guests were expected to place their order at the cash register. Our displeasure at not having been told this earlier quickly evaporated thanks to the cashier’s incredibly friendly service. While we waited, we were treated to a variety of free salsas. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan, but even so, I slurped up the mild salsa as quick and lip-smacking as a smoothie.
Our meals arrived before I could do much damage to my Corona. I eyed the Quesadilla Suprema with interest. The criss-crossing grill marks on the toasted pita teased my taste buds. With that first bite, my mouth exploded with such magnificent flavours my tongue would’ve applauded if it could: tender chicken cooked with the perfect amount of char, rice nicely seasoned, black beans for an extra punch of protein, and the side of chips reasonably salted. Sour cream was a dollar—a revelation that found me making a second trip back to the cash—but it was money well spent, adding a perfect layer of creamy moisture to the quesadilla. Being a messy affair, I resorted to a knife and fork, but that was all a part of the fun promised by those already enjoying their meals when we arrived.
Equally pleased, my partner’s Mex-Vegetariano Burrito was stuffed to near bursting, packed with chicken and crunchy vegetables, and the salad consisting of crisp lettuce doused in a sweet vinaigrette. With so much food, we were surprised that our bill came to only thirty dollars.
Though it was an evening of ups and downs—from searching the side alleys of Dalhousie to climbing back up those creaky untrustworthy stairs—it is hard to deny that Ahora offers a fun dining experience with incredibly priced meals of high quality. Such highlights overshadow any minor issues, making it a place I’d recommend to anyone looking for an exciting night out in Canada’s capital. And that’s not the Corona talking!
Nathaniel Neil Whelan
Nathaniel has an M.A. from Carleton University and is currently enrolled in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. An up-and-coming author, he lives in Ottawa with his partner and pet cat Susie-Bear.