‘You want to know the mark of a great city?,’ I ask TOQUE Partner Cai Sepulis as we’re led to our table. ‘A fantastic taco place.’ And while we haven’t been seated yet – let alone perused a menu – I am already anticipating that this could very well be that place. The Mule. On King William. And Hamilton, by extension, must be that great city.

As Cai and I are led to our table – a cozy four-seater at the far corner of the expansive two-roomed space – I take it all in. The exposed brick walls. The colossal bar. High-top two-seaters in the front room and more traditional four- and eight-seaters in the back. The curated artwork. Crystal and red chandeliers. And a small army of young and exuberant wait staff. Chatting. Teasing. Laughing. The whole place exudes a cozy vibe. I feel like I’m being wrapped in a soft tortilla of comfort, colour, and familiarity.

We’re early enough that the restaurant is still relatively empty. It’s a weekday, after all, so folks remain stuck in front of screens until closer to noon. Just waiting to bust out, I imagine. Our waiter – a giant of a man (for the next hour or so, I keep trying to figure out whether he can actually be taller than me) – welcomes us and asks us what we’d like to drink. The Mule is known for its cocktails. I know this. But it’s early. And there’s work to do. And other stops on this #hamont daytrip. ‘Liquor must wait,’ I pronounce – to myself more than anyone. We settle for beer. Pints of Blood Brothers’ Dark ‘n Sour Stout – a lip-puckering combination of sour cherries and dark chocolate. A perfect pairing for what’s to come.

Cai has been here before, so she leads me through the one-page menu sorted by clear and concise categories: ‘Tacos’ and ‘Not Tacos.’ We decide on a few items from each grouping – Fried Calamari and a Watermelon Salad to start, followed by a couple of Pork Belly Banh Mi tacos, two Halloumi tacos, and one L.A. Beef Cheek taco. Orders in, I cruise around the joint looking for photo ops. Of which there are plenty. And that’s when I notice how packed The Mule has become. There’s not an empty table in sight. Business folk. Friends. Families. Couples. And singles at the bar.

‘You should see the place on weekend nights,’ the friendly bartender remarks when I ask him if the place is always this popular. ‘Once the sun’s gone down on Fridays and Saturdays,’ he continues, ‘the place is a sea of people.’ Foodies. And folks who appreciate live DJs. And industry types, too.

‘Our full menu is available until 2am every night,’ the Mule’s Executive Sous Chef, Kat Danylewich, tells me when we get a chance to chat. ‘Which makes us the perfect hangout for cooks, bartenders and other restaurant staff to end the night with us – which we love,’ she adds. Indeed, it’s apparent that The Mule team thrives on making everyone feel comfortable – and at home.

The Mule’s Executive Sous Chef, Kat Danylewich

It is clear that Kat and her team are truly focused on creating an atmosphere of inclusion and community. ‘It’s important to us that everyone feels welcome here,’ Kat remarks, ‘from business professionals to families with children to groups of friends.’ She continues: ‘Since we opened three years ago [on Supercrawl Weekend] we’ve been nurturing this culture of inclusion. Which, in my mind, is what restaurants should be all about. After all,’ she adds, ‘what’s more communal than sharing a plate with people you love?’

As if on cue, Cai and I both go for the last piece of calamari. And, like the great friend she is, Cai cuts it in half with her fork and takes the smaller piece for herself. Chewing away, I am already anticipating my next visit here. After all, The Mule truly is a fantastic taco place. And Hamilton, by extension, must be that great city.
The Mule