London·Pinto on Food

Some of London's best Mexican food comes from a parking lot on Oxford Street

Ivanopoblano is tiny food truck — actually, more of a trailer — on Oxford Street E. that churns out delicious, organic Mexican food all year long.

Owner Ivan Santana-Barnes lived in Mexico, Vancouver before moving to London

Ivan Santana-Barnes is the owner of Ivanopoblano, a Mexican food truck located in the parking lot of a health food store on Oxford Street. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Ivanopoblano is tiny food truck — actually, more of a trailer — on London's Oxford Street E. that churns out a style of delicious, organic Mexican food that I've never experienced anywhere else.

Originally from Mexico, owner Ivan Santana-Barnes blends the dishes he learned to make from his mother with his talent for crafting brand new creations.

"I make all my food from scratch ... I use my Mexican roots," he explained. "When Mexican people come, they say to me, 'oh my god, I've never had something like this, even in Mexico!' — but they [still] feel like it's Mexican food."

A portobello mushroom stuffed with Mexican-style ratatouille, aged cheddar cheese, and house-made chipotle and corn sauces. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Before moving to London in 2016, Santana-Barnes spent a decade and a half managing a Greek restaurant in Vancouver. Initially visiting the west coast to take a four-month English-language course before studying public relations in Madrid, Santana-Barnes fell in love with Canada and decided to stay.

At the Greek restaurant, Santana-Barnes worked in the front of the house, serving customers, deciding that he didn't want to work in a kitchen until it was one he called his own.

Instead, Santana-Barnes channeled his passion for cooking into a food blog called Ivanopoblano, all while working on his goal of opening a food truck. "I like to interact with people," he explained. "If I opened a [bricks and mortar] restaurant, I'd be [hidden] in the kitchen."

Santana-Barnes adding his house-made salsa to an order. Containing more than 20 ingredients, many of them charred, the condiment is inspired by his mother's recipe. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

However, life — and business — in Vancouver proved expensive. So Santana-Barnes decided a move to London to realize his dream.

"My husband, he's from London, and I've been coming here for eight years [to visit family]," he said. "So I said to him, lets move ... we'll open a business, we'll buy a house — we'll have a better life."

The couple moved in February 2016, and Ivanopoblano changed from blog to real-world food truck in August that year. It's located in the parking lot of Lyn-Dys Health Food, a long-running store owned by Lynda Phillips.

Santana-Barnes' Mexican take on ratatouille, a classic French vegetable stew, is stuffed into quesadillas, grilled sandwiches and the occasional special. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)
Ivanopoblano is permanently located in the parking lot of Lyn-Dys Health Food on Oxford Street. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"Ivan ... married my nephew," Phillips explained. "He said his dream was to have a food truck. So we talked a little bit, and I said, 'you know, I have a really big parking lot.'"

Tap on the audio player to hear more.

Unlike many outdoor food businesses, Ivanopoblano is open year-round. While acknowledging that it can get rather cold, especially compared to Vancouver, Santana-Barnes says that his love of dancing in the kitchen helps keep him warm.

Sometimes, he posts his dance moves on social media.

Ivanopoblano is located at 1016 Oxford St. E. in London. It's open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m and Saturday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Cash and debit only.

CBC Windsor reporter Jonathan Pinto travels across southwestern Ontario as Afternoon Drive's "food dude." Know of a place you think he should check out? Email him at jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca or on Twitter @jonathan_pinto.

Two quesadillas, made with organic kamut tortillas. Corn and flour tortillas are also available. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)
Fresh-made agua fresca, with a changing variety of fruits. This one contains beets, pineapple, pears, honey — and a little bit of poblano pepper. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)
Pulled chicken is another filling option on Ivanopoblano's menu. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Pinto is the host of Up North, CBC Radio One's regional afternoon show for Northern Ontario and is based in Sudbury. He was formerly a reporter/editor and an associate producer at CBC Windsor. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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