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Good Tex-Mex in Tampa Bay?

Hey guys, I'm looking for Tex-Mex and I've had the hardest time finding something good. I admit I've only tried a few places, but that's what this board is for, right?

Yes, there was a giant thread recently about "real" Mexican food and I've had plenty of great Mexican food, but I'm looking for the Texas variety. I've tried Estella's (two locations) and will never go back. Miguel's on Kennedy has been suggested, but I found the food, well, pretty bad. Horrible bagged tortillas, not fresh guacamole and greasy chips with ketchup salsa.

The closest I've had was at Agave on St. Pete Beach and at Los Mariachi's in Clearwater. Both were pretty decent and even though they claimed to be "authentic" Mexican, they were both similar to the Tez-Mex style.

Any help? Thanks,

Kevin

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  1. Hey, Kevin - what's tex-mex? I thought it had chile (con carne) all over the enchiladas, tamales, etc. Did they have that at Agave? I didn't see that. Or am I wrong about tex-mex?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Tandoori Girl

      Hmmm, I guess describing Tex-Mex is a little harder than I thought. Some popular Tex-Mex dishes include chile con queso (cheese dip), fajitas and enchiladas (mole sauce is rare in Texas).

      I am fanatical about Mexican food, but there are many varieties. I like them all. However, I do miss the general Tex-Mex type restaurant. Chains like Tia's and Don Pablo's are generally a form of Tex-Mex, though not very good. I spent a lot of time in Texas, and the Tex-Mex from San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas can even change from city to city, so I guess there's no hard and fast rule.

      It's a cuisine alright. In fact, Robb Walsh has even published a book called The Tex Mex Cookbook.

      Anyone been to Tuscon's on Ulmerton?

      -Kevin

      1. re: UptownKevin

        Kevin, you are correct about Tex-Mex being a cuisine. Tex-Mex emerged when traditional Spanish/Mexican recipes were intermixed with the traditional Anglo fare. There are some dishes that are found in both traditional Mexican cooking and Tex-Mex. Two of the biggest differences in Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking is the heavy use of meat and yellow cheese in Tex-Mex fare.

        1. re: UptownKevin

          I was at Tuscon's [on Ulmerton in Largo] Feb 1 2009 for the Cardinals/Steelers superbowl 'open' party in the bar with a friend. Great time with Yeagermeister girls serving shots and lots of free finger food. Also there a few times since for the small lunch buffet [OK but not a lot of choice] and lunch menu items. Not spectacular and not even good Ari[zona]-mex food, really. Never saw it crowded. Lots of free parking and located in a "commercial park".

          The local business/office people seem to have gone there for 'business' lunches and drinks. Too clean/neat to be a local hangout. It is now closed [at least it was in early December 2010].

      2. BOY does this town need some good Tex Mex! Since moving here six months ago from Dallas, I have even thought about how I could order my favorite fajitas from my fave Tex Mex joint (Uncle Julios), get them packed in dry ice, and overnighted to Tampa! In Texas I took good Tex Mex for granted; no mas!

        Tandoori Girl, while enchiladas de chile con carne is a standard Tex Mex dish, it does not by itself define the cuisine. Tex Mex usually uses yellow instead of white cheeses and includes such dishes as fajitas (originating from South Texas), frozen Margaritas (originating from Austin), nachos, the ubiquitous above-mentioned enchiladas, and a variety of other dishes. Tex Mex is also an attitude--a hybrid of its Mexican roots with that oh-so-Texan boisterous confidence. Love it or hate it, it's a cuisine unto itself. I happen to love it when it's well-done.

        I have been on a quest, but have yet to find, a decent Tex Mex joint in the Tampa Bay area. Thanks for your post; I'll heartily anticipate good news of good joints by other posters.

        2 Replies
        1. re: laurie

          Actually Laurie, the frozen margarita has its origins in Dallas ;-)

          Back in 1971, the man who owns the restaurant Marianos in East Dallas bought overstock Slurpee machines from the Southland Corporation and hired a chemist to come up with a mixture that would freeze.

          1. re: TexSkills

            Well, thanks for that fun factoid. I haven't been able to find any good Slurpee-style margaritas around here. Maybe that's 'cuz they're all made in Dallas. . . .

        2. Hey Kevin, have you tried Carmelita's? They have several locations in Pinellas. Better than Mariachi's.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Lisaknowsfood

            I don't know if we just managed to hit it on a bad night, but Carmelita's was pretty bad.

            So far our hunt for decent Tex-Mex in Tampa has been pretty disappointing. El Toro Bravo (Sarasota) was decent and the owner was flying in his chiles from New Mexico. Taco Bus is another good place (as well as Taqueria Monterray) but neither are Tex-Mex.

            1. re: jfischer27

              I have driven by "El Toro" on Clark in Sarasota, just looked at the menu and I will try it.
              Thanks Jfischer!!!!!!

              http://www.torobravoclub.com/Home.html Menu is complete with prices.

              1. re: jfischer27

                I lived in St. Petersburg for the first 21 years of my life and have lived in Boston for the last 10 years. Carmelita's remains my favorite for Mexican or Tex Mex. I'm not sure how it's classified. I have never been able to find better chicken enchiladas anywhere. Their salsa is also my favorite. It's so fresh tasting. They provide mild and hot salsa. I have always gone to the Park St. location.

                1. re: Marisa23

                  Perhaps it was just the location then. We went to the one in Largo, and while it was certainly not the worst Mexican food I've tried in the Tampa area it certainly was far from the best. I ordered a chile relleno and got a fairly generic, overly greasy relleno with what was best described as canned marinara sauce being passed off as ranchero sauce. We only got one type of salsa as well which was mild and fairly bland.

            2. Also I have to rave about Taconazo (like everyone else does). I get a craving for them every 2 weeks, like clockwork.

              1. You need to get to Abuelo's in Lakeland. It's actually a grade above a good Tex-Mex restaurant, but it's the closest you'll find to good Tex-Mex in Florida.
                JD from Dallas

                3 Replies
                1. re: JDfromDallas

                  how about the VIP on Treasure Island? Sturdy Tex Mex and a great pork / green chile stew.

                  1. re: andy huse

                    WE finally had dinner at El Toro Bravo on Clark, (at swift rd.) in Sarasota. I must say Ruben the Chef/owner is really into Mexican food; he brings in Dried Chiles from the Southwest. All of his dishes are made to order and the "Long Chile" Relleno,
                    Soft Tacos, Tamales, and Cinco Queso appetizer were all very good. Ruben greets every customer and explains his food and asks what your preference is for green or red sauces. Overall, this place will become a regular destination for us when the "Mexican Food craving" hits us.

                    1. re: ospreycove

                      It is nice to see El Toro Bravo in Sarasota make the list. This is still the best mexican in Sarasota.

                      Rueben was a successful restranteur in New Mexico for years before coming to south florida. He knows his chilies!