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Ex-Californians: Great Mexican Restaurants in Tampa Bay?

I've gotten advice from Texans. And from New Yorkers. And, of course, from Floridians. And they all swear they KNOW what good Mexican food tastes like. Maybe they do -- but their preference is distinctly different from mine and every other California transplant I know. (Velveeta does *not* count as a Mexican cheese, folks.) There is something unique about Mexican food from California, particularly LA, and it hasn't been replicated at any eatery I've tried in Tampa thusfar. (To date, the closest in taste has been Guadalajara's on Hillsborough at Anderson.)

So, I beseech the California-palate Chowhounds: Please recommend truly authentic, truly delicious Mexican food in the Pinellas, Hillsborough or Pasco areas. My tum will be forever indebted.

FYI, the following do NOT fall on the list of "good Mexican," sorry:

Vallarta's on Anderson
Poblano's on McMullen Booth
Jose's on Drew

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  1. Have you tried El Toro Negro in St. Petersburg? Taco Nazo on Hillsborough in Tampa? Mi Mexico on Armenia in Tampa? They are all humble places that remind me of the Mexican food I"ve had in Mexico (which is pretty close to California). Al Gusto on Kennedy in Tampa is also pretty good, a little less humble, not quite like the real stuff, but perhaps closer to the California style, though I'm not quite sure what that is. Maybe you could help us by explaining what California style Mexican food is, rather than what it isn't (I assume you're not talking about the giant burrito that originated in the Mission District of San Francisco and is now the centerpiece of a couple of popular chains). I agree, the real stuff - the stuff I've had in Mexico - doesn't use yellow cheese of any sort (avoid the growing chain of Estella's restaurants in Tampa, for example, or Miguel's on Kennedy in Tampa). The fish tacos at Z Grill on Central in St. Pete I'm told are close to the California version. Try a few of the above and let us know what you think.

    1. Don't know the Tampa area but I *did* live in Orlando for a year and never had any decent Mexican.

      Why not learn to love Cuban? It's an entirely different Caribbean cuisine that they *do* do well in Florida? Then you can do what I did when I lived in Florida and Canada: bring back lots of Mexican groceries from your trips back to California and make your own. Mexican food isn't hard; it just takes the right ingredients which, as you point out, do NOT include Velveeta. And enchilada sauce is NOT a substitute for salsa.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rainey

        I'm sure the Tampa Bay area has enough Mexican grocery stores that it shouldn't be necessary to bring things back from California unless it's something from a region of Mexico that's not represented in the communities out here.

      2. Bergerman offered solid suggestions. Try those.

        I couldn't agree more on the places you mention (I will never set foot in a Vallarta's again!), although i think there is a time and place for decent texmex. Of course, tyhere's plenty of bad mexican food wherever you go, and we're no different here. It seems the first reacxtion fo newcomers is to try to find replacements for what they used to eat.

        We get the same complaints from New Yorkers about bagels and pizza. I often think that even if we had the exact same food here, emigres would still find it wanting. In any case, I hope you find something edible here. When you're done trying to replicate California food, you might find that we have some pretty good options in the area. Even some things you'd be hard-pressed to find in Cali. You might find the glass is half full one day.

        1. I've never been to Cali, so I can't really help with your request either. Check Laurie's post for Really GOOD Mexican food in CLearwater-although she's a Texan. The food at Guadalajara's was ok, but I found it to be a dirty location.
          I'm equally amazed that Chowhounds have repeatedly recommended Poblano's. Granted, I've only been there once, but there was a bad smell when I walked in and I'm pretty sure the tamale I was served came out of a can. And if the place is full of only Americans, how authentic can it be?

          1. I'm really surprised at the negative reviews of Poblano's. We usually go 2-4 times a month and have never had problems with cleanliness, smell or service. I'm really picky and would never go back if I thought there was an issue.

            An alternative is Casa Tina's in Dunedin--their food is fresh and healthy (for Mexican).

            1. Thanks for the responses.

              The trick to California-style Mexican, to me, is in the cheese and the refried beans -- but that's on par with what I'd order (cheese enchiladas, rice and beans). Someone else may say it's in the carne asada flavoring (like my husband) or that it's in the salsa. It's difficult to describe exactly; Californians would know what I mean (seems that some of you here do too).

              The glass-half-empty comment seems odd; I'm talking specifically about Mexican food here, and it's not a secret that this area is lacking in the good stuff, no matter where you're from. This area of Florida has its pluses with food outside of Mexican, definitely. But that's not what this thread's about.

              About Guadalajara's being dirty -- honestly, that's not a deal-breaker in this case. Some of the best restaurants and taquerias are hole-in-the-walls and in less-than-fab locations -- it's not excusable, but it's a sacrifice I'll make wholeheartedly for great cuisine.

              Z Grille has good fish tacos, but they're overpriced. I think I spent $9 on two tacos. Too much! Plus, fish tacos are pretty consistent everywhere I've tried them. As long as you have the cabbage, a decent salsa and fresh fish, you're good to go.

              1. Oh. I forgot. Try the VIP Lounge in Treasure Island. The chef makes his own tortillas. The beans are very good. Some vegi dishes as well.

                1. The Florida board's purpose is to discuss foods found uniquely in Florida. Discussion of Mexican food in general terms, or Mexican restaurants outside of Florida, authentic vs. not, are all off topic for this board and will be removed.

                  Please see our moderation policy, here:

                  1. My rules for Cal-Mex:

                    1) Cal-Mex is often spicy. Tampa-Mex is nearly always mild, often with brown sauces which are a central Mexican staple and is much like Tex-Mex was in the '50s.
                    2) Cal-Mex rarely uses chipotle. Jalapeno, ancho, and arbol are used instead. Tampa-Mex, if it has chilies, seems to always use chipotle.
                    3) Cal-Mex uses salsa, not ranchero sauce.
                    4) Cal-Mex uses cheese topping in moderation. Tampa-Mex often smothers enchiladas in cheese.
                    5) Cal-Mex doesn't use meat flavoring (bacon?) in its refritos.
                    6) Cal-Mex uses leaner meat. Fattier meat is admittedly more "authentic", but doesn't taste as good (to me and most Americans).

                    Cal-Mex is more like northeastern-Mex (and Tex-Mex), while Tampa-Mex is more Central-Mex.

                    El Taconazo is the closest I've seen to Cal-Mex. It's my favorite Mexican place.

                    1. I, too, am always in search of authentic Mexican, having traveled extensively in Mexico and dined in the homes of many Mexican friends. My fiance lived in San Diego for several years and would go to Tijuana and Ensenada for tacos, so between us, we have a bit of experience with authentic Mexican food of the non-Velveeta variety.

                      Clearwater has a number of authentic Mexican restaurants. Our favorite so far is El Gallo on S. Missouri, between Drew and Druid. It has a taqueria-type menu combined with several other stand-bys such as enchiladas in red (chile colorado) or green (tomatillo) sauce, VERY GOOD tamales, etc. The owners are from Chihuahua, so the menu reflects the cooking style of that region. They also have a salsa bar with several types of salsas and "tipico" taco fixings such as cilantro, fresh limes, chopped onions, and the like. Highly recommended.

                      For true hole-in-the-wall authenticity and the best fresh corn tortillas east of the Mississippi, try La Cabana del Tio on Drew, in a tiny shopping center next to a laundromat. Its clientele caters mainly to local Mexican residents, who largely hail from the Central Mexican state of Hidalgo. The line to order snakes out the door most weekends. There are only a couple tables, so takeout is the way to go here. We go for stacks of fresh, warm corn tortillas to take home, sopes, and tacos. I particularly like their tacos al pastor. You will love their spicy, garlicy red salsa (which I think they make it with guajillo chiles, but I may be wrong about that).

                      Another good choice that caters to the local Mexican population is Los Vaqueros, also on Drew. When they have it as a special (closer to the holidays), their Mexican hot chocolate (spiced with cinnamon) is the best I've had outside Oaxaca. My fiance likes their carne asada plates.

                      Carambas (also on Drew--do you see a pattern?) is popular with local gringos and reminds me of restaurants you'll find in Texas border towns. The food is ok (a little more on the Tex-Mex side), but they charge for table salsa! In my book, that's like charging for ketchup to put on your hamburger!

                      With respect to well-seasoned carne asada: We have been to several of the local Mexican meat markets in search of carne adobado (aka fajita meat) to throw on the grill, but unlike the markets in Texas, that is just not customary around here. You can, of course, get good cuts of unmarinated skirt steak; we just haven't been able to duplicate a good adobo seasoning ourselves. If we find it we'll be sure to post it, and we hope you will do the same!

                      Hope this helps. Buen provecho!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: laurie

                        I'm surprised at the Caramba's recommendation. They used to be really good. Now, their food is way overpriced, the food is generally just mediocre and the service is terrible! Not to mention as someone already pointed out, they charge for salsa!

                        They used to be really good, but they've gone down hill in the 2 years I've lived here. Would not recommend.

                        1. re: sstinso01

                          Just for the record, I'm not recommending Caramba's. Any restaurant that charges for table salsa is not a true Mexican restaurant. And the food's mediocre at best.

                        2. re: laurie

                          Clearwater has a large Mexican population. Mostly from Hidalgo. The places you listed on or near Drew street are as authentic as it gets. I like Casa Tinas in Dunedin for a little different twist on Mexican but Poblano's in Northwood is like high priced Taco Bell and not recommended.

                        3. If you like TacoNatzo, AynRand, then you should like Mi Mexico on Armenia. Not to digress but I was wondering what you mean by "most Americans"? I guess you mean most "gringos" and not Mexicans? Or what do you mean? Mexicans are Americans too, no? And have you checked out Emeril Lagasse's show where "pork fat rules" to strong applause from -- ohmigosh -- Americans!

                          Laurie, you can buy flank steak at reasonable prices at some of the Cuban groceries on Columbus Avenue in Tampa. The Cubans use flank steak to make Ropa Vieja. Maybe a bit far for you to drive for it but it is there in abundance.

                          Wow! All those places on Drew in Clearwater! Is that the street that runs on a diagonal when you get off Hwy. 60 to head to the bridge to the beach? I've seen quite a few mex. restaurants there. For those fairly new to the area, the addition of Mexican food as a common Florida restaurant staple has occured within the last 10 years or so. There used to be only a few and they were always mobbed. I still yearn for southern New Mexican food, which is what I grew up on -- red and green sauces, longhorn cheese, creamy refried beans, tacos with ground beef, cheese enchiladas. Even enchiladas with an egg on top, my grandfathers favorite, but always a very limited menu. Mex. food in FL is becoming more eclectic than theirs! Most likely because of the influx of Mexicans into Florida after the North American Trade Agreement.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Tandoori Girl

                            And the number of Mexican restaurants in Florida has increased even more in the past two years in many parts of the state. A lot of the construction workers who came to help rebuild after the hurricanes in 2004 were Mexican or Central American, and it's been fun to watch the food businesses that have sprung up to cater to the construction workers and everyone else who came east looking for work.

                          2. Mmmmmm, Southern New Mexican! I think I might have to order my Hatch green chiles online now that we're here. . . . Do you know if they can be bought here locally during chile season?

                            To answer your question, Drew Street is north of and runs parallel to Gulf to Bay. And thanks for the tip on Cuban flank steak. There are some good Mexican meat shops and grocery stores in the Clearwater area, so we have found good grilling meat, just not the already-seasoned meat that we used to get in Texas. Fortunately, we have found queso fresco, queso anejo, crema mexicana, good quality dried chiles, tomatillos, etc. at the local Mexican grocery stores.

                            Red Mesa in St. Pete bills itself as Southwestern, but from what I hear it really isn't truly authentic. It's supposed to be tasty nonetheless. You might like El Gallo, as Chihuahua-style cooking is similar to what I've tasted in El Paso and Las Cruces (being right across the border). Their rellenos are made with poblanos, though. . . .

                            Any recommendations for good Southwestern here locally?

                            1. Laurie, when we were in Chihuahua awhile back we were excited about the Tampaquena on the menu, being from Tampa (hmmm...wonder if there's any connection?). We found it locally here not too long ago, I think at El Toro Negro, but it wasn't like they make it in Chihuahua (where we caught the Copper Canyon train). Wonder if El Gallo might be a good source for that? Grilled beef, don't remember what kind, but with a chile cheese sauce on top of it.

                              Those Hatch green chiles, you can actually buy them on ebay, I've found, during the harvest season, as well as the various Hatch online sites. I can't recall the price but I think it was a OK. But no, not here, and of course you won't have those wonderful gas powered roaster hoppers that they have outside all the La Fiesta grocers in the SW, to char the peppers for free.

                              Red Mesa is really more Floribean-Mexican, and is quite good. Lots of interesting fish and shrimp dishes, the sauces are good, but it's still a far cry from SW. I grew up in and have lots of family in Carlsbad, and fly into El Paso to get there. And I'm confused -- what other peppers are used for chile rellenos other than poblanos? Actually, I had some once at Estellas (the absolute worst Mexican in Tampa but THE most popular place) and they made them with green peppers. Aychihuahua!

                              Best Southwestern -- my kitchen! I've had to get it the hard way, lugging bags of NM chile powder here (no, they don't carry it in Mexican groceries, it's a completely different taste and chile that they use). I make my own red and green sauce, and make the open-face enchiladas of my childhood, with longhorn cheese and bites of raw Spanish onion. And the guac -- those Florida avacados just won't do, as you surely know, Laurie. Talk about a watery mess.

                              But no blue corn tortillas, longhorn cheese, NM chile sauces, nor the cream-based green chile sauces, the sopapillas with honey :( Unless someone else knows of something...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Tandoori Girl

                                Yum, you are making my mouth water! What's on the menu tonight? :)

                                About the relleno thing: In at least Northern NM and eastern Colorado, seems like the rellenos I tried were made with Hatch or Anaheim chiles (which I guess are about the same thing as Hatch chiles, albeit not grown in Hatch). I do prefer poblanos for rellenos, I must say. A friend from El Paso used to argue that the only REAL rellenos are made with Hatch chiles, so therein lies the rub. . . . I guess it's a regional preference.

                                Boy do I miss Fiesta markets! Someone told me that Publix was planning a Latino market chain in Florida called "Sabor," but we shall see. Keep your fingers crossed that they come complete with curbside chile roasters and hot roasted corn sprinkled with limon and chile. . . . And maybe even some fabulous fresh blue corn tortillas, but that might be hoping for too much. . . .

                              2. Get to the I-10, head West until you get to Hoover St. Exit, turn right and within a few blocks you'll be at El Taurino or King Taco. If you want to exit a little sooner, you can get a great burrito at El Tepeyac. If you go, be sure to pack a few extras in vacu-seal and send some my way......you just can't get good cali-mex in Florida. Seriously, when I'm back in LA, I'll empty the contents of a good burrito into a vacu-seal, and re-create it when I get home. I also make sure to get a container for my favorite salsas. In addition to my mexican fix, I do the same with In-n-Out burgers! Enchiladas freeze really well so you might want to just get your LA friends to send you a tray or two of your favorites via overnight air.

                                1. Update: We tried Caramba's on Saturday. Thumbs up on the cheese used in the enchiladas, but the sauce tasted like the canned version (very strong), and the salsa for the chips was...well, not really salsa. It was more like a sauce used to top a Southwestern chicken dish.

                                  On top of that, the place had so many other faults, namely: bad service (often overlooked for great food) and they charged for *everything* (chips & salsa, rice & beans with combination platters...). My partner and I actually played a game of finding something they DIDN'T charge extra for (and, coincidentally, on the back of the menu, they do mention that they offer Alka-Seltzer free of charge...go figure).

                                  Anyway, Caramba's had TWO high points -- cheese and tortillas -- but it wasn't enough to keep it on a return-visit list.

                                  Next stop: El Gallo on Missouri, since it's gotten a couple of high mentions here.

                                  FYI, we're in Pinellas, so we're going to hit up as many as we can on this side before heading east.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: yumtothetum

                                    By far Taconazo is my fave. I only go on weekends, as the tamales are the best and are only served sat/sun. The tamales are quite large, and i've had everything from pork and chicken to jalapeno queso aned pineapple. the steak is good, if a little greasy. the pork is not trimmed of fat as much as i'd like, but it sure tastes good. the shredded beef is quite good as well, but not quite as flavorful as the others. the ceviche is nice and refreshing, and the beans are good. a burrito is a full meal in itself. they recently added breakfast tacos with meat and egg. i have yet to try the tonque tacos.

                                    You might try a visit there.

                                    it seemed to me that you were not going to be impressed at carambas. i tried it years ago but didn't find it worthy of a post--- not great, not bad. hopefully your next attempt will not disappoint.

                                    1. re: andy huse

                                      Thanks for the rec. I did an online search. Is this the place on Hillsborough, just east of 275? If so, next time I'm close to that area, I'll give it a go.

                                  2. I made a return trip to the VIP Lounge in Treasure Island last weekend. I guess I shouldn't drink Margarita's when I want to get serious about restaurant critiquing. The chile relleno was very mediocre and flat as a pancake, not fluffy with egg batter. The beans were horrible and the rice was also bad. My enchiladas had a good red sauce but the filling for both cheese and meat enchiladas was just too much of a mediocre thing. My husband had shrimp and steak tacos ($4/each) and they were actually very good. Some people were eating fajitas and they looked excellent.

                                    And for Kevin, they have won best margarita from Best of the Beaches for a few years in a row, they claimed. But I wasn't drinking that night so I can't tell you if it's true.

                                    1. My stomach hurts just reading these replies. Now I don't even known if I've ever even HAD mexican food, and I'm afraid to go try to find any. Well, maybe i'll just head down Drew Street and see what happens. MAN what a debate!

                                      1. I prefer to think of it as a lively discourse. :) I think the controversy stems from the fact that there is no such thing as a single type of Mexican cuisine that defines the food of the entire country. Mexican food scholar Rick Bayless (author of two of my favorite Mexican cookbooks) describes six distinct regions of the country and their sometimes quite different approaches to similar dishes. Also, there can be big differences between Mexican dishes from Mexico, good Tex Mex (as a former Texan, I can vouch that Tex Mex can be VERY good and is its own distinct cuisine), New Mexican/Southwestern, and the hard-corn-shell-ground-burger-Velveeta-Taco Bell stuff.

                                        The "authentic" Mexican food that can be found in this area for the most part reflects the flavors of Central Mexico, which may be (I'm just guessing here) somewhat different from what our compatriot from Cali, who started this discussion, is used to. I certainly understand her nostalgia for the tastes of home, as I, too, miss some of my favorite flavors and restaurants from Texas. I think renowned food writer Calvin Trillin got it right when he observed that all too often, the best local specialties just don't exist outside their places of origin. So Yuminthetum, I lift my margarita glass to you (a frozen swirl, Texas style), and wish you all the best in your quest for the perfect Cali Mexican fix in the land of the grouper sandwich. Salud!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: laurie

                                          LOL! I raise my glass (of wine, since it's the safest bet) right back. Guadalajara's on Hillsborough gives me hope that better Cali-Mex is out there...it's just a matter of finding it. In this Tampa sea of newly sprung Mexican restaurants and holes-in-the-wall, all I really need is ONE great spot, and to that spot I will be faithful. I'll contentedly hunt until I find it.

                                        2. Has anyone been to Aunt Chilada's on US19/ palm Harbor? I saw some reviews that it had gone downhill and one that said it's back and improved. How's the food? margaritas? decor, cleanliness?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: rikkikm

                                            I didn't care for the food (specifically, the cheese wasn't great), but the atmosphere/cleanliness was fine. Didn't try the margaritas. FYI, it's been about 6-9 months since I visited.

                                          2. A Texan has as little chance of knowing real Mexican food as the average Floridian. The stuff they eat in Texas is Texican food and as far from real Mexican as you can get.

                                            If you crave tacqueria style food (like the ones back in So. Cal.) there are a couple of places in Orlando called Beto's.

                                            By the way, the fish tacos at la Fiest in Cape Canaveral are as close as they get to the ones you find in Baja.

                                            Sorry I can't help with the Tampa area. I avoid Tampa like the plague (highway construction X10 years).

                                            1. Stop this nonsensical chest-beating, you two. Get thee to El Toro Negro, as suggested by the Very First Poster over two weeks ago!


                                              1. After reading the newspaper review of El Toro Negro (thanks Joan) and seeing the magical words "al pastor", my heart calls me to brave I-4 and head to Tampa. The only al pastor I've been able to find so far in Central Florida is a little fonda set up at a Mexican flea market in Haines City on weekends.

                                                And to Laurie, I was just funnin' ya. No offense intended :)

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: bkhuna

                                                  Okay, let's call a truce! :) We've had really good tacos al pastor at La Cabana del Tio, a little hole in the wall on Drew in Clearwater. We're talking about the real thing, with fresh, handmade corn tortillas patted before your eyes and puffed on the stovetop before they're doubled-up and filled with the savory meat, chopped onion, and cilantro. Their salsa is my favorite in the area, too. I haven't tried tacos al pastor anywhere else in the area--or looked for them, as I get my fix at La Cabana del Tio. There are several other little storefront taquerias in the general vicinity that we plan to try. I'll do so and report back. It also sounds as though a pilgrimage to El Toro Negro is in my near future. . . .

                                                2. What's the address, cross street, or phone number for Cabana del Tio? I can't find them with a Google search.

                                                  1. You won't find them in a Google search, I'm afraid. This is very much a Mom and Pop operation in a tiny, rundown storefront next to a laundromat with only two tables in the joint. Takeout is the way to go here. It is smack dab in the middle of Clearwater's burgeoning Mexican neighborhood and is patronized mainly by recent Mexican immigrants, with whom it is very popular. The interior is somewhat dingy, worn, and dimly lit. This is not a place for folks looking for an Americanized experience; it is more like a taqueria one would find in a small town or working class neighborhood in Central or West Central Mexico. But it offers the sort of fare true Chowhounds treasure, in my opinion.

                                                    With that advisory, the general location is the south side of Drew, a little west of Keene. Their corn tortillas are some of the best I've had either side of the border, and Mexican friends and relatives who have visited us from out of state agree. Besides tacos, they have a full menu of standard Mexican fare. We particularly like their sopes.

                                                    1. Laurie, your description of Cabana del Tio has given me the reason I need to brave I-4 and visit Tampa. Can you possibly give me directions coming from the Orlando area?


                                                      1. Okay, but only if you promise to say nice things about Texans. :) Coming from I-4 into Tampa, head south on 275 to 60 West, toward Clearwater. Follow 60 West (the Courtney Campbell Causeway) into Clearwater; it becomes Gulf-to-Bay. Turn right at McMullen Booth Road and get into your left lane to prepare for a left-hand turn at the next light, which is Drew. Drive west on Drew a few miles; major intersections you'll pass include Hwy 19, Belcher, Hercules, Keene. Once past Keene, keep your eyes peeled to your left (south side) of the street for Cabana del Tio. Like I said, it's a tiny place in what some might call a somewhat rundown building. If you hit Highland, you've gone too far.

                                                        I must admit to feeling a bit of pressure for you making such a long trek for a couple tacos. So, I would recommend that you buy takeout and drive a couple more miles west to the beach (it's that close). After a strenuous day of sunning yourself on the beach, on your return to the mainland stop at El Gallo for a sit-down dinner. It's on S. Missouri (just east of downtown Clearwater), a few blocks south of Drew. You might find El Gallo to your liking, as well; plus, the restaurant interior is bright, pleasant and homey. And if you don't find a salsa on their extensive salsa bar that pleases your palate, well. . . .I don't know how else I can help you.

                                                        Enjoy. Maybe I'll see you at one of these fine establishments. I'll be the gal in the ten-gallon hat and rattlesnake skin boots, hollerin' "yee-haa, y'all". :)

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: laurie

                                                          I passed by Cabana del Tio last night (on a full stomach, unfortunately). We'll probably be giving it and/or El Gallo a try this weekend. Will report back.

                                                          1. re: yumtothetum

                                                            Being a self proclaimed Mexican food aficionado I took Laurie's advice and stopped by Cabana del Tio for some chow. Needless to say I was not dissapointed. I ordered the plate of asada gorditas (three to a plate) and a pastor taco. The gordita was made with masa shaped into something that resembles a boat and filled with refried beans, your meat of choice, and some white cheese. The asada did not appear to be marinated but was sauteed with some onion. Not the most flavorful asada that I've had, but very good nonetheless. The pastor is much better and will be my meat of choice the next time I'm back. Yes I will be back. Thanks again for the great posts!

                                                            1. re: traderphill

                                                              Glad you enjoyed it! I agree with you about the carne asada used in the tacos. We haven't been able to find well-seasoned carne asada in the area yet, either in a restaurant or at a Mexican meat market. If anyone finds some, I'd sure like to hear about it. I'm also not a fan of their tamales, when they have them. The tamales at El Gallo, however, are fabulous. But La Cabana del Tio's tacos al pastor. sopes and fresh tortillas make me happy, so I can forgive their imperfections!

                                                        2. My wife and I have been know to drive many, many miles in search of good chow. I'm sure I can come up with something to do to justify the trip.

                                                          Too bad the Padres have already made their yearly swing through town.

                                                          1. Laurie and everybody else, I just went to El Cabana de Tio and it was wonderful. If you go on a Sunday you might be lucky to experience their barbacoa, which was not on the menu but while we were sitting at the counter (we dined in adventurously) the cook brought in a huge aluminum-covered deep pan, and sliced it open and fished out big chunks of barbacoa. We thought barbacoa was roasted steerhead meat but then we went to El Gallo (which was just horrendously awful) their menu listed it as lamb. But whatever, it's a Sunday delicacy in Mexico city, and it was yummy. We had tacos and they were terrific.

                                                            I don't know what happened with El Gallo. The beans tasted like lard, the rice was totally tasteless, the meat in the taco had a chalky aftertaste, the enchilada on my combination plate was supposed to be chicken but was meat, and the tortilla was rubbery. It thought their salsa bar was admirable but the one at El Toro Negro is better and El Toro's food is so much better, I'd not waste my time. We did not try the tamales at El Gallo, and I know it is hard to find a good tamale, but we were so disappointed that we couldn't venture any further.

                                                            But El Cabana de Tio was the bomb! I think the Tio was there cooking too. so thanks to Laurie for a terrific suggestion with El Cabana de tio but, Laurie, you need to go to El Toro Negro for the real goods and kiss El Gallo goodbye.

                                                            1. Wow, I'm really surprised by your review of El Gallo. I respect your judgment; it's just hard to fathom that it could have gone downhill so quickly (it just opened in May). I liked the rice and beans I tried there. I must admit it's been about a month since we've been there, as we regularly get our quick fix at La Cabana del Tio. And we haven't made it to El Toro Negro yet. Oh well, sometime places open with a bang and tire quickly; maybe that's what has happened to El Gallo. I'm going to give it another try someday soon and see what gives.

                                                              1. I also went to El Gallo recently, on Saturday night. Overall, I found it to be "okay/pretty good." I'm also thinking my standards are lowering, though, because I found myself grading on a curve and really *trying* to like it.

                                                                I ordered: menudo, cheese enchiladas, chicken taco, rice and beans

                                                                My partner ordered: steak burrito, steak taco

                                                                First, I was thrilled to see these words on the menu: MENUDO - SABADO Y DOMINGO

                                                                It reminded me of all the great Mexican joints at home that catered to the hangover crowd on weekends with their delish menudo. I was pleased that El Gallo's menudo was homemade -- the canned version is easy to spot (tip for Carmelitas: can the canned stuff!), and it was rather good, even though the usual toppings (namely, chopped onion and cilantro) didn't come foiled-wrapped with the menudo and instead were slimy and wilting at the salsa bar. I also prefer menudo with hominy (seen it anywhere?), but I was just happy to have it.

                                                                The server spoke limited English, but we did fine until it came time to order my partner's carne asada burrito. Until that point and discovering a confirmation post a couple days ago here about the LACK of carne asada in the area, we hadn't realized ordering it would be a problem. We kept saying "Carne asada." She kept saying "Steak?" In the end, we all nodded, assuming we were agreeing to the same thing. But, no, steak is steak, not carne asada. No fabulous seasoning that acts as a delicious gel that holds the entire burrito together. In the end, my partner liked the burrito for what it was. It didn't break records but was very good.

                                                                As for my dishes, the cheese enchilada was decent...definitely better than nearly all the ones I've tried thusfar in Tampa Bay. The cheese and freshly made tortilla were terrific. Where I stumbled was with the sauce, which was far too strong and overwhelming.

                                                                My rice and beans were good, the simply seasoned rice being the better of the two.

                                                                My chicken soft taco (no hard shells here) arrived as just chopped chicken on a small tortilla -- PERFECT. The salsa bar was steps away to pile on cilantro, salsa, onions, etc. However, the chicken was dry as could be. Between the dry chicken and a naturally semi-dry tortilla, I needed to chase every bite with gulps of water. Besides the dry chicken, though, the preparation and style of the taco was bravo.

                                                                I was happy to see the salsa bar, but was disappointed that all but one was HOT. With Mexican food, "hot" means American "fire," so a couple more mediums would have been great.

                                                                We're not in a rush to go back, unless I simply can't find fresh menudo with hominy anywhere. I'm hoping there's another spot that can score higher across the board. La Cabana del Tio will probably be the next stop.

                                                                1. Why can't anyone post the street address for El Cabana Del Tio!?

                                                                  Google has 'El Cavama del Gio' on 1709 Drew Street...
                                                                  Sounds like a possible 'typo del gringo'... Ahhhhh.... that was funny...
                                                                  I wanna go TOMORROW, but I'm not familiar with those streets...
                                                                  I'll be on US19 tomorrow... And I'm hungry NOW!

                                                                  I'll find it, but COME ON!

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Mild Bill

                                                                    Sorry I don't know the number, but if it helps at all, it's just west of Keene; Duncan is the closest cross street. It's kitty-corner from Yates Dry Cleaners. Hope that helps.

                                                                    The Google listing is a hoot! I bet that's the one, albeit horrifically misspelled.

                                                                    1. re: Mild Bill

                                                                      I believe the number is 1709 Drew St. I was there yesterday. The sign for the Laundromat next to it is blue and white and the restaurant has a circular logo with a house in it and mirrored windows. Don't expect anything fancy- but the gorditas I had were excellent.

                                                                      1. re: rikkikm

                                                                        Yep, 1709 Drew. 3 small blocks west of Keene. If you wind up there today, please let us know how you liked it.

                                                                    2. I'll pass it tomorrow morning...will post the address soon after.

                                                                      1. I did go! And I just got home and drank an Alka Seltzer!
                                                                        Yes, it's 1709 Drew, thanks guys...

                                                                        It's a little Mexican 'nook'... Thank God my wife is from Argentina, so I could BARELY, but smoothly, communicate my desires... I don't think any of the girls working the front area spoke english--and I was totally fine with that... I wanted to play in 'their' world...
                                                                        Lots of smiles tho--- nice people...

                                                                        I ordered two Tacos al Pastor, Sopes con carne, and two Tamales... It was a lot of food...
                                                                        I've been on Atkins and I wanted to worship at the alter of the Masa...

                                                                        Three girls the whole time stayed at the griddle with a small vat, grabbing and shaping the Masa into Tortillas and Sopes, and other things--then tossing them onto the griddle... It was spectacular and masterful... I've never had corn tortillas right off the heat, and consequently I never tasted tacos so delicious... The filling was 'just right'--saucy but not runny... Just the tortilla, the red pork(?) filling, and some Cilantro... I could live on them...

                                                                        The Sopes were good because of the crusty, thicker, toasty, Masa... The salsa they served with it on the side was not generic, and not too spicy...

                                                                        The Tamales (I took one of them home) were moist and a little more spicy, but it was just right...

                                                                        Next time I'm gonna just do a lil' tacofest---with the various fillings. There were about 8 to choose from...

                                                                        Over time I'll work my way thru their menu, because they are as authentic as I've found here...

                                                                        Thank God there was a 7-11 next door with an ATM, because they don't take any cards...

                                                                        I took a few pics of the place and of mi comida...
                                                                        I'll try to post URLs later...

                                                                        Big thumbs up... Thank you guys...

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Mild Bill

                                                                          Glad to hear a success story!

                                                                          Do they have menudo on their menu? Also, what kind of tamales do they serve (e.g., pork, chicken)?

                                                                          Thanks for mentioning the cash-only caveat. I had a feeling. Will be going soon!

                                                                        2. Hey, Bill (or should I call you Guillermo?), glad you enjoyed it! Your description is making me yearn for one of their tacos al pastor--and I just ate dinner.

                                                                          1. If you want to try the BEST Mexican resturant in the Tampa Bay area try Caramba's on Drew St. The owner is from Mexico City and many of the recipes are his Mothers. Very Authentic Mexico City cuisine. This is not your tipical Mexican Rest. It's a little on the high end. But the menu offers items not seen on most Mexican Rest. menu's. Such as Grouper, Samon, Shrimp. Just as there are low-priced to mid-priced Steak houses. There are low to mid priced Mexican food resturants. They use top of the line beef and fresh seafood. Each dish is cooked to order. I believe you get what you pay for. On Friday and Saturday nights the place is packed, and, yes the waiters are busy. I would go during the week of you want your waiters to pamper you.

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: foodcriticmaria

                                                                              Maria, I'm very happy you've found a Mexican restaurant you love. Caramba's certainly wasn't it for me, though, as mentioned at length above. If you're talking higher-end, though, I did enjoy Red Mesa in St. Pete. A little bit Mexican, a little bit Southwest, and very good. It allows diners to get away from enchiladas and tacos a bit, if you so choose, and explore some of the dishes you mentioned.

                                                                              1. re: foodcriticmaria

                                                                                I was a regular at Caramba's when it first opened in the early '90's. I have since moved and ate there recently on a visit to the area.

                                                                                This would no longer be one of my "go-to" places. The prices have gone up past the point of being reasonable for the meal. The waiter asked if I wanted chips, with no mention that it was an extra charge. Once I looked over the menu I was very happy that I had resisted. Rice and beans are an extra charge too. The food was still tasty, especially the chili relleno.

                                                                                If the food is great I'll work with other issues. In this case the food is not good enough for me to want to revisit due to:
                                                                                *price/value due to add ons
                                                                                *funky smell, either a moisture issue or possibly the cleaning solution used on the tables. Either way, it took quite a while to stop noticing it.
                                                                                *service. The place was dead. I was brought to the worst table in the place, a 2-top jammed in an awkward corner. I declined, suggested a different table. The server was not pleased...there were never more than two other tables occupied during my meal.

                                                                                One combination dinner with rice/beans, a beer and tip was over $20! There are too many places with equal or better food, service and more comfortable surroundings that I get by for less.

                                                                                1. re: meatn3

                                                                                  Real sorry to hear that. As you pointed out, they used to be one of the better ones in the area.

                                                                                  1. re: meatn3

                                                                                    We ate there about 6 weeks ago and the food was good. I did think it was overpriced and it was hot inside. Our service was fine. I had a restaurant.com coupon so the check was probably what is should have been if everything was not overpriced.

                                                                                2. I have to disagree with you and instead agree with all of the other posts on this board that Caramba's misses the mark. I had their carne asada last time I was there and it was dry and tough as shoe leather. I have heard that it used to be quite good, but apparently, the restaurant has gone way downhill. I have eaten at quite a few restaurants on trips to Mexico City and Caramba's just doesn't compare. The quality is just not there.

                                                                                  1. I'm curious there is a nice Mexican restarant in St. Pete Beach named Agave. It is owned my a woman who claims her recipes are the same from Mexico. I enjoyed the pork and the whole red snapper with lime and tomatoes. Certaintly can not be called greasy as many Mexican restaurants are. Try it and let me know your thoughts

                                                                                    1. Tried La Cabana del Tio yesterday afternoon. Very good! I ordered a steak taco, a chicken taco and menudo. The tacos were simple -- just tortilla, meat, lime wedge and a container of salsa in the classic style -- but the tortillas tasted fresh (the women were in full view pounding out the next batches of tortillas) and the steak, in particular, was delish.

                                                                                      FYI, tacos are only a buck-fifty each.

                                                                                      I didn't see burritos or enchiladas on the menu -- anyone know if they serve them here?

                                                                                      As for the menudo, it was the best I've had in a very long time. (Like El Gallo, though, no hominy, unfortunately.) A little spicy, very flavorful, lots of meat. Only complaint: It was $9!!

                                                                                      Not a fancy place -- in fact, I'd even call it rather filthy and a true hole-in-the-wall. However, the food was great, and the taste of fresh tortillas is bar none.

                                                                                      1. Has anyone tried Algusto Mexican Restaurant on W. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa? Someone dropped off a menu with me today. They actually have carne asada on the menu.

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: yumtothetum

                                                                                          I mentioned Algusto in an early post (33 days ago, it says; this thread is long). It's definitely worth a try. More upscale than any of the other places mentioned here, though still on the casual side. It's grown a little since it first opened, which is encouraging, especially for that part of town.

                                                                                          1. re: Bergerman

                                                                                            Okay, thanks. I'm not over there often, but we'll definitely try it out the next time we are.

                                                                                        2. Thanks everyone,

                                                                                          As a San Franciscan transplant, I've made note of all these great joints. Can't wait to start checking out the restaurants and da hoods. Thanks Again.

                                                                                          1. Just wanted to thank everyone on here for letting us know about El Torro Negro in Kenneth City. We went there for lunch today and I'm still full! Loved the different salsas, had their enchiladas with red sauce and my fiancee ordered the chicken gorditas (the real deal). Met the owner and everyone there was very nice. A great hole in the wall. Now we have a reason to drive out to Kenneth City once in a while.

                                                                                            Also: Agree for upscale Southwest (more Southwest-style really then Mexican) it's hard to beat Red Mesa in St. Pete.

                                                                                            Taste Tampa Bay

                                                                                            1. I'm originally from San Diego so I feel your pain. The fish tacos are GREAT at Dunedin Brewery. The guy who put them on the menu is originally from Huntington Beach. They aren't soft tacos like Rubios or Wahoo's but still really good! They use cabbage (no lettuce) and the sauce is right. The beer is excellent too. There's also a deficit of microbreweries in Tampa sadly enough.

                                                                                              8 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: curleegurl

                                                                                                I'm from SD too, and it's been really hard finding something that even comes close to the stuff I used to get in SD. El Taconazo comes pretty doggone close; I tried Miguel's, but the jury's still out on it. (Love their queso fundido though. Reminds me of the stuff I'd get in Tijuana.)

                                                                                                But someone has yet to point me to where I can get those big, big burritos that I used to get from places like Roberto's (and Alberto's, and all those other plays on their names)... now THOSE, I crrrrrrrrrrrrave...

                                                                                                1. re: miznic

                                                                                                  I lived in San Francisco for 8 years, so I'm right there with you guys. Although there's some good Mexican here (thank you, El Toro Negro and Aguave) I'd sell my soul for a fat Mission-style chorizo burrito. Now if only La Taqueria delivered!:-)

                                                                                                  1. re: laboheme

                                                                                                    I'd kill for something like the enchiladas at La Fiesta in Mountain View, or some of the eateries on University Ave in Palo Alto.

                                                                                                    1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                                                                      I recently read an old Chris Sherman review describing the food at Z Cafe in St. Pete as "California-style Mexican". Has anyone checked it out? This ain't no hole-in-the-wall taqueria-- I think it's fairly yupscale, although I haven't tried it. Just curious if any Hounds agree with Chris Sherman's description.

                                                                                                      1. re: laurie

                                                                                                        I've been there for lunch and for dinner. The fish tacos were ...skimpy, and used cubes of fried fish. OK I guess. Dinner - different menu and ambience - was wonderful. They have a flatiron steak that's full of flavor. Very tiny place, and I heard they're relocating a few blocks west, and changing to takeout only. But that's not confirmed, and I don't know when. So call first if you plan to go. Dinner can be very fun if you get a sidewalk table, lots of people watching.

                                                                                                  2. re: miznic

                                                                                                    I left my heart at the El Indio as well as Roberto's, Alberto's, Los Panchos, Robertito's, and all the little holein the wall taquerias in San Diego.

                                                                                                    There is one tacqueria in Orlando that is very, very close to So. Cal. style Mexican food. It's called Beto's and it's off of 436 in Cassleberry.

                                                                                                    Carne Asada burritos just like back in BC. Still searching however for Ensenada style fish taco's.

                                                                                                    1. re: bkhuna

                                                                                                      Once again, for those of you who yearn for the real thing, La Cabana del Tio on Drew Street in Clearwater is a wonderful hole-in-the-wall with great tacos al pastor, tacos de bistec con nopales (steak and cactus), sopes, and the best corn tortillas this side of Hidalgo, where the owner hails from (as does most of the Mexican community in Clearwater). No fish tacos I'm afraid, so this doesn't strictly qualify as Cal-Mex, but if you're looking for good eats that don't involve Velveeta and hard taco shells, this may fill the bill. Be sure to take home a pound or two of their freshly-made tortillas. Expect the line to snake out the door of this tiny place on weekends.

                                                                                                    2. re: miznic

                                                                                                      If you want a mammoth burrito as big as your head...go to to Taqueria on 402 S. Howard Avenue. They have an awesome selection of microbrews too in the glass case behind the counter. I had the pulled pork burritto the six-incher. There's another size up too. Tasty!

                                                                                                  3. Okay, I FINALLY tried El Toro Negro. I have mixed reviews. DH hated his fajitas--said they were tougher than the leather of his motorcycle boots. When he complained to the waitress, he was told he "must have gotten a bad piece"--with no offer to fix it. :( I got a combo plate of an enchilada with red sauce, chile relleno, and tamale. The chile relleno was good; I'll go back for more when I have a yen for a good relleno. The enchilada, however, was disappointing. The red sauce was a watery tomato sauce, with nary a sign of chile ancho or guajillo, which is what "red sauce" means to me. The tamale was probably good when it was freshly made, but I think they heated it in the microwave. The masa was crusty-tough and completely micro-burnt on one end. Very disappointing. I must say, the guacamole on their salsa bar was absolutely fabulous--very flavorful, with a wonderful bite. The folks we dined with had similar "hit or miss" experiences with their orders.

                                                                                                    I also recently gave Casa Tina in Dunedin another try, after a disappointing first encounter over a year ago. I think the trick at Casa Tina is to order any dish with their WONDERFUL red sauce. This is a New Mexico-style red sauce, rich with freshly blended ancho chiles. The enchiladas are pricey at $13,95, but the portions are very generous (enough for lunch the next day) and the red sauce divine. It's similar to the red sauce I make for enchiladas (which I don't do very often, because it's labor-intensive and I'm a lazy cook). The posole is also wonderful, as good as I've had in Mexico with the added bonus of not being greasy like posoles usually are. I will be back for both dishes. I don't like their moles, however--both versions are watery (instead of being a thick paste, which moles should be) and lack the rich complexity of a good mole. Stick with the red sauce at Casa Tina and you won't be disapponted.

                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: laurie

                                                                                                      Husband and I were just discussing our thoughts about the taqueria scene in Tampa Bay and while we certainly haven't tried every place (I hope there continue to be more and more options of every kind of Mex food, not just taqueria food!), here are our verdicts:

                                                                                                      El Taconazo: Best Overall. Best meats by far, great ambience. Only thing lacking is the non-fresh tortillas. Muy autentico!

                                                                                                      El Toro Negro: Good, but misses the mark on certain days. Their meats have been consistently better than those at Cabana del Tio, however.

                                                                                                      Cabana del Tio: The tortillas make up for their meats, which have been dry and lacking on our visits. But those tortillas are a-ma-zing! We will keep going here and hope for improvements in the meats.

                                                                                                      All of these spots are good taquerias, above average with The Taco Bus (Taconazo) really getting it all right...now they just need to get a fresh tortilla set up and open a second bus in St. Pete!!!

                                                                                                      ***Note: Z Grille is really good, but it isn't and isn't trying to be "Mexican" food. It is what they are calling "So-Cal Fusion". I'd even go so far as to say it is "So-Cal/Gulf-Fla Fusion"!!! Whatever it is, it is delicious. Everything I have had there is great, spendy, but always fantastic.***

                                                                                                    2. I'm looking as well....haven't found anything to scream about yet. Sorry!

                                                                                                      1. I hear ya...born and raised in Cali and have traveled extensively over the years. My wife and I have always had the same problems with the cheeze whiz crowd and finding "authentic" Mexican food can be difficult. Love the Cuban cuisine too, but still prefer south america over the carribean. Have you been down to the Clearwater Beach area? Mexico-Lindo on 812 Court St., while not a restaurant, a market that also has a butcher shop and taco stand, will knock your socks off. Cheap prices to boot.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: dnsholden

                                                                                                          Dnsholden, if you like South American, check out Mi Tierra Colombiana on Highland south of Gulf-to-Bay in Clearwater. My husband is Colombian, and I used to live there. We frequent the restaurant, which is owned by a couple from Manizales, for their generous but reasonably-priced goodies. Their soups are especially to die for--homemade and wonderful.

                                                                                                        2. Yum, I haven't seen you on this board lately, but it you're still around you may want to check out Casa Tina in Dunedin. I've written separately about Casa Tina's recent expansion, and I continue to be impressed by its continued improvements. We were there this evening, and I tried their Guadalajara-style tacos (a new offering). You have your choice of four fillings (chorizo and cheese, carne asada, carnitas, or rajas), which are served in double-corn tortillas (Jalisco-style) with rice, beans, and three WONDERFUL salsas. These are the best tacos I've had in the area yet, and they might just meet your Cali Mex standards. For example, they do not use lard in their beans and emphasize healthy, less-greasy preparations than what is often found at Mexican restaurants.

                                                                                                          1. I don't believe it's been mentioned, but there is a tiny little place on 49th street, just north of 118th, in the same plaza as kimmy d's. The place is called El Paisano and it's amazing in my opinion. It's more of a lunch place, in fact, i'm not sure that they're even open for dinner.

                                                                                                            EVERYTHING is fresh as far as i've seen, and they do have al pastor. They also have lots of non mexican items like gyros, wraps, and subs. Everything is excellent, but their soft tacos are killer!!

                                                                                                            1. Just returned from a very good mexican dinner at the Lakeview Grill. I know, I know the Lakeview Grill , good authentic mexican, right!! I've lived in Clearwater for over 25 years and as chow hound I've tried many of the local mexican restaurants including Carramba's (good) Jose's (bad) Carmalita's (americano so so). Spotted a post on this site for the Lakeview Grill so we decided to give it a try. Terrific and I'm sure an as yet undiscovered find in Pinellas county. The owner told us they have been open 40 days.

                                                                                                              Entering the place we were the only gringos, a good sign. We were greeted by the owners wife and shown to a booth. We were served chips and a salsa. The salsa was different from most salsa's I've tried. It was very thin without the chunky tomato, onions, jalapenos, etc. Nonetheless very spicy and enjoyable. In looking over the menu I'd describe it as 85% mexican with a carryover of greek items from the former owner . My guess is the new mexican family that took over the restaurat wanted to try to retain some of the former customers. The menu included carne asada, chiles rellenos, fajitas, shrimp/fish mojo d'ajo, flautas, etc. I had the chicken flautas and my spouse had the tostadas cerviche. The 4 crispy corn tortillas flautas were served with a red sauce and fresh cilantro and fresco cheese. The 3 shrimp cerviche tostadas were nicely flavored with fresh lime. Nice, light and delicious according to my spouse. Both entrees were served with yellow rice and refried beans. For desert we shared an excellent homemade flan. The price for dinner including 2 Modelo beers was $28.50.

                                                                                                              This an undiscovered find that I recommend to fellow chow hounds.

                                                                                                              1. Mi Mexico (full menu) on Armenia Ave in Tampa and Taco Nazo (The Taco Bus, tacos, burritos, ceviche) on Hillsborough Ave just east of 275.
                                                                                                                100% authentic or at least they taste pretty damn close to the stuff I've had in Mexico.

                                                                                                                1. We are from New Mexico and if you still are trying to find authentic NEW MEXICAN foods, you must drive to Sarasota! El Toro Bravo on Stickney Point Road. The owners lived in Roswell and understand "red or green"! They get the chile's from Hatch mostly and it is the only place we have found that serves this special type of cuisine. I hope this reaches you because your original post was in 2006... It is a family run place with very sincere service. We eat there several times a week. Chile Colorado and the Rellenos are our favorites...We understand how you feel!

                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                  1. re: Tryn2grin

                                                                                                                    You just gave me an excuse to take a road trip to Sarasota. Mmmmm, chile colorado, and rellenos made with Hatch chiles. . . . I used to get fresh and hot roasted Hatch chiles when I lived in Texas, but few folks have heard of them in these parts. What are your favorite items on the menu?

                                                                                                                  2. I'm from Tampa, born and raised, sorry, never been to CA, but I cannot believe no one has mentioned Jalapenos De Ybor. It's a small placed, owned by a woman from Mexico, shes the only one that works there, it's a walk up joint w a very cute little patio to eat on, small menu but good, stick w the pork, they make their own taco shells, use jalapenos in their sauce, and its much better than any other mexican place in tampa that Ive tried. They are open M-Saturday until 2pm though, bummer. They also have home made sangrai which i hvnt tried but ive heard its tasty

                                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: rhnault

                                                                                                                            I decided to check out Jalapenos de Ybor today. You will like the tacos if you have a taste for americanized hard-shell tacos (grated cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.). The tamale was good but I doubt that is going to be enough to bring me back.

                                                                                                                            1. re: CFishman

                                                                                                                              I like an occasional crunchy taco but I've been making my own tacos at home lately with cabbage, cilantro, fesh lime, salsa, protein of choice(so far chicken, shrimp, and fish) and corn tortillas.

                                                                                                                              1. re: rhnault

                                                                                                                                I suspect you are eating better at home than you will at Jalapenos.

                                                                                                                    1. Based on the recommendations on Chowhound, I went to California Tacos on Friday. The fish tacos are outstanding.

                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                      1. re: TC 1000

                                                                                                                        This place really is good. The food is fresh and tasty, the place is clean, and the owner is friendly. I just tried it two weeks ago, just 5 minutes from the house, and I've been back 4 times already. The fish tacos are great but I can't stop myself from pulling in each time I pass by for the tiajuana street tacos.

                                                                                                                      2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. My next trip to Tampa will include a visit to California Tacos. I remember wonderful fish tacos from Baja but now I live 4 miles from Port Canaveral and you can't find one that's edible anywhere.

                                                                                                                        1. Sorry know you are looking for California Transplant replies can't help there I am from New York. That being said, Poblano's is probably one of th worst restaurant's I've ever been to Mexican or otherwise. I don't know about authenticity, but I like Los Mayas on Missouri and Cleveland in Clearwater. The food is good and reasonably priced; the restaurant is clean and I hear spanish being spoken.

                                                                                                                          1. I am from Chicago now living in Tampa. As a former sales manager, I have literally eaten in many places around the United States and almost every ethnic cuisine imaginable. First let me say Tampa does not have a lot of really good ethnic restaurants, but when you find one is a gold mine then you spread the word. It took me a year to find some of the best Mexican restaurants and they are not in the northern part of the bay area. You need to go south to the rural part of Hillsborough County.
                                                                                                                            As a Chicagoan, you name the ethnic cuisine and there is a place to eat, so you learn early on that if you want the best ethnic food you ask someone of that ethnicity to direct you to the best food places. I worked in Ruskin for four years, so I ask some teenagers and their families where do they get the best Mexican food and it is Ruskin or Wimauma --the farthest points southeast and southwest respectively in Hillsborough County. The food is extremely inexpensive but authentic-authentic and all homemade-except the tortillas.
                                                                                                                            Both are mainly carryout style restaurants, but there are a few tables if you want to sit down and eat. They are both located west of Lennard High School—very very close to each other In Ruskin—If you are up for the drive try La Casita‎- US 41 south turn right on Shell Point-less than 75 feet on the right--101 West Shell Point Road, Ruskin, FL‎ -
                                                                                                                            There is also a place called Cruz Mex --this Mexican grocery store in a yellow building on the north side of US 41 and Shell Point in Ruskin. They have a restaurant attached-- this is the student’s favorite. Once a day around 3:30-4:00 the bus headed to Texas comes through Ruskin and it unloads its passengers so all can eat. It is like clockwork but there is very little food left after they depart—if everyone eats. The owners Mr. and Mrs. Cruz speak English most of the workers speak Spanish but they can tell you what the dish is in English-and you get a lot of food--. This is the best place anywhere in Hillsborough County for Cheese Chile relleno cooked the right way usually at lunch around 1100am--always tip they are great people. I recently stopped in last week for a meal--they still remember me, I pick up food for three under $20.00. They both close by 4:30pm and are sometimes closed on weekends if there is a big soccer match or tourney in the area. Best time to go is lunch hour if you have the time.
                                                                                                                            In Wimauma there is a place called Sara’s, I have not eaten there but they have a few other Mexican restaurants in this community, as well.
                                                                                                                            P. S. -Try spending a weekend in Miami if you really want to explore and enjoy a variety of restaurants you will never find in Tampa. BTW-- did you know, Tampa has a really good Haitian restaurant --ask me how I found it-- You got it I asked a family—the food is awesome. Don’t forget the Philippine restaurant in Pinellas.

                                                                                                                            La Casita
                                                                                                                            101 W Shell Point Rd, Ruskin, FL 33570

                                                                                                                            11 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: chgontampa

                                                                                                                              Tampa transplant originally from California, Southern California to be exact. In the 6 months I have been here I have yet to find a good mexican restaurant where the homemade tortillas don't include flour tortillas. FYI - the manteca (lard) is what makes the refried beans taste good. Please direct me to a place where the salsa is actually spicy and hard shell tacos are not on the menu. A place where they serve pozole and menudo on weekends. Maybe someone knows of a good carniceria so i can make it at home.

                                                                                                                              1. re: dekat310

                                                                                                                                What about Agave in St Petersburg?
                                                                                                                                Can you comment on this restaurant

                                                                                                                                1. re: palmtree38

                                                                                                                                  Agave is fine. I would go there if I were spending a lot of time on St. Pete beach and I didn't want to drive elsewhere. If you are really only after food, you could do better.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: CFishman

                                                                                                                                    Will be spending 5 days in St Petes. will have a car and staying at Sirata hotel.. If you have another suggestion close to hotel better then Agave would love to hear!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: palmtree38

                                                                                                                                      That may be the best mexican you are going to find in the area. If you are willing to drive there are more options. I wouldn't eat at Agave in place of Ted Peter's, Wildwood BBQ, and other places close by.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: CFishman

                                                                                                                                        Ted Peter's, Wildwood BBQ are these must try places????? if so what do you like about them or a feature entree that is a must??

                                                                                                                                        1. re: palmtree38

                                                                                                                                          Ted Peter's is a must-do! It's a local institution--it's been run for something like 40 or 50 years by the same family. Cash-only. You can eat on the patio, inside, or buy smoked fish by the pound at their smokehouse next door. Menu is limited. They have smoked fish meals (the salmon is my favorite, even though it isn't a local fish; mullet is a taste I have yet to acquire). I adore their cheeseburgers--they're pure old-fashioned goodness, like the ones served up by diners in the 60s.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: laurie

                                                                                                                                            I thought I would mention that I was at Taqueria Monterrey last night and when I went to pay I noticed a flyer requesting suggestions on veggie taco recipes. The chowhounder with the most delicious entry will win a trip to Mexico. I went with huitlacoche and rajas. Bill, I was shooting for your record of 9 tacos, but I only made it to 6. I am still eager to hear your impressions. You can email entries to: tacobus@me.com .

                                                                                                                                            p.s. Second and third place prizes are parties for 20/10 people at the Taco Bus. That would be a fun chowdown.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Mild Bill

                                                                                                                                                I remember I was simply in the area and was thinking of that small lunch buffet at Lai Thai on Fletcher, but when I called no-one answered, so I figured they were closed...
                                                                                                                                                They always seemed on the edge, but I have yet to confirm they're actually gone...

                                                                                                                                                I continued on down Fletcher, not really that hungry, but I had to kill some time before my next job in the area...

                                                                                                                                                I saw Monterrey and pulled in...

                                                                                                                                                I'll save my small review of the experience, and my previous 4, for the actual Monterrey thread...
                                                                                                                                                I'm still putting it together in MS Word...

                                                                                                                                                I have yet to try Huitlacoche and I'm really eager to--- so good suggestion...
                                                                                                                                                Do the veggie tacos need to be pure vegetarian?

                                                                                                                                                Lai Thai Restaurant
                                                                                                                                                1905 E Fletcher Ave, Tampa, FL 33612

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Mild Bill

                                                                                                                                                  Did I put this on the wrong thread? I'll repost. The flyer does say "vegan."

                                                                                                                            2. I realize this is 4 years too late. I've found that I cook it myself...And I'm no chef. but it usually tastes better. search for reader rec recipes that dont have too many silly ingredients. I loved a little mom/pop in riverside that had these mex soups...could never locate again.... just googled mex soups..came up with close to that....

                                                                                                                              1. Cabana Del Tio Clearwater and Taqueria Monterrey Plant City. Hand made tortillas, El Pastor, carnitas, the best I have found so far, and I have live in FL since 1979.

                                                                                                                                Happy eating