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GOOD Mexican food in Tampa Bay???

I'm trying to find a good Mexican restaurant that hasn't diluted its menu with food that has been influenced by other cultures (i.e., Mexican-Cuban or Mexican-Spanish) in an effort to appeal to a broader customer base (since this area is so diverse). Before everyone answers with Carmelita's and/or La Teresita's...I've been to those and others (Miguel's in Tampa and others that I didn't even bother remembering the name of), and they are good in their own right. I thought that I had found a gem in Los Mariachis, both the one on Ulmerton in Largo and the one on Gulf Blvd in St. Pete Beach. The food was OK, the salsa and chips were GREAT, but the service at both locations was horrible, even after going multiple times just in case they were having an 'off' night or were short-staffed. I swore that I would never go back after sitting through an entire meal with no drink.

Suggestions anyone? On a related note, I'm REALLY a fan of salsa that is basically tomatoes, jalapenos, and garlic salt, without cilantro or huge chunks of onions. There's just something about cold (but spicy) salsa and hot chips fresh out of the warmer...Mmmmmm!!

To touch on real Mexican food, I've been to Mexico and spent LOTS of time with friends and (more or less) family there. I also worked in a Mexican restaurant for 10+ years and learned a lot from the guys in the kitchen. This coming week I'm going to El Taconazo, AKA The Taco Bus, for the first time and I've been told by many people that I'm going to love it. I certainly hope so!! Are there any other places that you Hounds would consider good enough to earn the title of authentic?

Thanks,
Matt

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  1. Hey delfin1205 - there's already lots of posts about this on the board - I suggest you search for 'Tampa Mexican'. Mi Mexico and Taconazo are the most common places named but you'll find lots of discussion of other places and their authenticity (or lack of it) too.

    1. i could barely choke my food down at carmelitas. i tried it twice and have now officially written it off.
      try el toro negro in kenneth city. pretty legit.
      im anxious to find this taco bus, this is news to me! thanks!

      1 Reply
      1. re: sarahew1

        Algusto's on Kennedy Blvd across from UT(just west of dowtown). My Texas buddies swaer by it, very very fresh mexican.

      2. There's a great little spot on Treasure Island called "The VIP". When you walk in, you'd think you're just in a dive bar, but the food is amazing. Not a jar or can in the kitchen (you can walk in it anytime) everything is fresh, and not a word of English being spoken on the line (not that that's a rarity I guess). The "wet" burritos are a thing of beauty.

          1. Vallarta's is good, they have two locations, one on 56th street, and another on Dale Mabry. There's also Maya's, it's on Fletcher.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cgcollins

              Vallarta's? you're kidding right? Tastes like dog food in a stale tortilla!

            2. I had fantastic chips and salsa at Red Mesa the other night! Just as you described. I know it's a contemporary Mexican/ Southwest hybrid but man, the meal I had the other night was really good.

              1. I would second the recommendation for Algusto's on Kennedy - very tasty and the owners are great! The Fancy chimichanga is great and I their beef tacos - cubed not ground beed are also very good with the soft corn shells

                1. delfin1205:

                  Have you been to the taqueria at the Acapulco Grocery on Macdill? I think laurie mentioned it in a thread a few weeks back, but I have not read anything else on it in any other thread. I think it's worth checking out, although I don't know exactly the type of experience you're looking for. (No chips and salsa at the Acapulco.)

                  For what it's worth, I've been to the Acapulco twice and to the Taco Bus twice since I've moved to Tampa, and I think the Acapulco comes out on top (strictly for a taco experience). The Acapulco is nothing to look at, though: it's a counter in the back of a small grocery store, and they serve only tacos, maybe a menudo, and perhaps another stew for good measure. I've enjoyed their meats (tripe is excellent), and I've enjoyed their salsas immensely, too. I think their salsas are much tastier than the Taco Bus's (especially la salsa verde).

                  I don't think you can argue that the Acapulco is not authentic, but if you want variety, you're looking in the wrong place.

                  Noice

                  -----
                  Acapulco Mexican Grocery
                  1001 N Macdill Ave, Tampa, FL

                  1. Matt, if you want really good Hidalgo-style tacos, sopes, and gorditas, try La Cabana del Tio on Drew St. in Clearwater. The owner is from Hidalgo, and the place caters to the area's Mexican immigrant population. Their homemade tortillas are to die for. This place is a true dive, but since you've traveled extensively in Mexico it should remind you of the sort of neighborhood joint common in Central Mexico. Bring cash and bone up on your Spanish before you go. Last time I was there I had to translate for an American couple trying to order at the counter for the first time.

                    A place I was not at first fond of but now love is Casa Tina in Dunedin. Casa Tina recently expanded to a larger facility next to its original space and has decorated the place in a sort of artsy, off-beat Frida Kahlo-ish, San Miguel-ish style. I love their pozole and their enchiladas (both red and green). They recently started offering Guadalajara-style tacos (carne asada, carnitas, panela and chorizo, or rajas) served with three delectable sauces. This is pricier than your typical Mexican resto (the taco plate's 10 bucks and the enchiladas 13), but worth it in my estimation. An added benefit is that they use a healthier style of cooking (sans lard) than what you typically find at Mexican restaurants.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: laurie

                      laurie:

                      I just came from the Cabaña del Tio today and all I can do is rub my tummy and say, "Wow." How right you are about their tortillas -- I don't remember ever having better on the East Coast. The brain (I was surprised they were serving it) and the carnitas were exceptional, although the al pastor was a bit too "saucy" for me. My buddy had the sopes, and they, too, were outstanding. The Cabaña is much better, in my estimation, than the Acapulco or the Taco Bus (I haven't been to Casa Tina), and I will be in those bar stools sipping horchatas as often as possible. Thanks for the tip.

                      Noice

                      1. re: Noice

                        I agree that Cabana is better than Taconazo- especially since the bus doesn't offer sopes. But Taconazo has more space for folks to sit and eat. Mmm, I'm dying to get to Cabana again- it's been too long. Though I haven't been since the update, I think Casa Tina is in a different category than Cabana.

                          1. re: rikkikm

                            Totally agree that Casa Tina is in a different category. While it caters to an upscalish, American crowd, I have been impressed with how they pull off traditional dishes while eliminating the use of lard and keeping the grease to a minimum.

                          2. re: Noice

                            Glad you enjoyed it, Noice! Sorry you didn't enjoy the al pastor. They are my personal faves. Next time, also try the bistec con nopales. The straight bistec doesn't have a lot of flavor in my book, but the mix of bistec con nopales is awesome!

                            1. re: laurie

                              laurie:

                              I must have passed over the bistec con nopales on the menu -- that's reason enough to go back this weekend! Thanks again.

                              Noice

                            2. re: Noice

                              One of my favorite places on BOTH coasts. Today I had a carnitas tacos and a carnitas gordito, my friends had tacos pastor and quesadilla pollo...excellent, excellent. I could eat there every day.

                          3. Agave on St Pete Beach is great. Also the very informal "mom and pop" called El Paso, on Heather Ridge Blvd in Dunedin is very tasty stuff. Red Mesa in St Pete, is a Southwest fusion style restaurant, but the food is really good.

                            1. The only places I like are The Taco Bus, Red Mesa & Algustos.

                              Vallartas, Estalas, & Miguels are nasty. I'd rather go to Tijuana Flats because even TF's fake mexican food tastes better and is cheaper.

                              1. we finally have something decent near USF on Fowler Avenue. Del Valle market has a kitchen, and their burritos keep me going all day long into the night (which is saying a lot). While it isn't the best mexican food i've had, it is hearty and flavorful. The quality of the meat tends to be better than Taconazo, and they often cook the meat and onions on a hot griddle, while brings a better seared flavor than Taconazo's stewed meats.

                                At Taconazo, I've enjoyed the cochinita pivil (sp?), a smoked pork with citrus and spices--- an intriguing flavor.

                                I enjoyed a nice nuevo Mexican lunch at Mariposa's in Land O lakes (?) recently, and their house made salsas area excellent--- especially the guajillo.

                                Stay away form Vallarta's.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: andy huse

                                  Andy - where on Fowler is this? I drive the Fowler strip many times weekly and haven't noticed it. Thanks for the tip!

                                  1. re: rebecca.kukla

                                    right next door to Trang Viet Cuisine, in the same strip mall.

                                    1. re: andy huse

                                      Andy, thank you very much for the recommendation. I went to Del Valle for lunch and it was really good. I had three tacos (lengua, al pastor, and chorizo) and a torta (milaneza). The meats were excellent and the tortillas were thick and fresh. I am not sure that they were home made but they were certainly a notch above the standard tortilla. The green and red salsas were excellent, particularly the red. My only regret is that I did not see the menu until I went to pay. They also have tamales and huaraches. There is another item on the menu called a pambazo. I just googled it and that looks like a must try next time as well. I also like the market quite a bit. There was a different thread on Chowhound recently about huitlacoche (corn smut) and Flor de Calabaza (zucchini flowers). The market carries both. Well done, Andy.

                                  2. re: andy huse

                                    I got around to trying Del Valle for lunch. I only had pastor tacos, as the menu claimed that they don't allow choosing more than one meat in their three taco meal. I agree with Fishman above; the tortillas might not be in-house, but they are definitely better than what you get at El Taconazco (they use a product that I can buy at Publix.) The pastor was good, if a little dry, but they didn't skimp on portions. Tacos were topped with pico and avocado, with lime wedges on the side. The table sauces were red (tasted like chile and water, little other discernible flavor or texture) and green (fresh chile and avocado, I liked this one better.) The staff were very helpful and both the girl at the kitchen and the man working the tienda (the owner?) were very accommodating and my poor Spanish skills were not a problem (their English was superb.) Too soon yet to say how they stack up with Taconazco or everyone's favorite Pinellas taquerias, but I look forward to trying more of their menu. I'm thrilled to have a closer joint to the USF area to get my taco fix. Thanks (yet again) Andy.

                                  3. Edit: I once went to Vallarta's because Malena's was closed. Biggest disappointment. Salsa was store bought and I payed more money and was still hungry afterwards. Last time I went to Malena's I had to have a friend help me finish my meal.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: cudnylon

                                      stay away from Del Valle's buffet. just disgusting. i paid after a small plate and went to Trang's next door instead. terrible food, really embarrassing. off the list!

                                      1. re: andy huse

                                        I agree totally....
                                        Recently I went for my 3rd and last time...
                                        I wanted to see if the offerings varied, and when they did, did they get better?
                                        Sadly and surprisingly, they didn't...

                                        Tomorrow we're hitting Acapulco for lunch if anyone's available for it...11:30...

                                        1. re: Mild Bill

                                          Had a good time, looking forward to the next foodie get-to-gether!

                                            1. re: CFishman

                                              It was great! Tried some very authentic & interesting mexican food, it wasn't mind blowing, but it was very tasty and fun. Bill, give em the rundown :)

                                              1. re: askdrtodd

                                                The company was as good as it gets...
                                                Like the other 'Hounders I've had the pleasure to meet and munch out with, Todd and his two buds are passionate, intelligent, and energetic foodies perfectly tuned to my / our frequency...

                                                -------and CFishman, the Huaraches con Tripa was as excellent as you said...
                                                I LOVED them...
                                                Most of the other stuff was good, and authentic, but not incredible...

                                                The 4 of us ordered various combinations of Tacos, Sopes, and Huaraches...

                                                The al Pastor was a little dry, as were some of the other fillings it seemed...
                                                True that's what the provided sauces and crema are for, but succulence and juiciness is a big part of 'smack-the-table-deliciousness', so when I cook, I 'try' to have each component stand proud on its own...

                                                No way is this a complaint... I'll go back soon---- after I try Monterrey on Fletcher... Monday I think...
                                                ----and I'll never not get those Huaraches con gutz at Acapulco...
                                                Actually the griddled masa boat of the Sopes is a little thicker and toastier, so I might try it that way next time...

                                                All total---- excellent lunch...

                                                1. re: Mild Bill

                                                  Well, I am glad you had a good time. I was wishing I was there with you guys at 11:30. I appreciate the play-by-play.

                                                  1. re: CFishman

                                                    You gotta love the Mild Bill reports.

                                                    1. re: andy huse

                                                      Thank you Andrew...
                                                      ---- and the doctors said I'd never be able to eat with a fork!

                                    2. There's a relatively new place in Clearwater on Drew just west of 19 called Pancho Villa. I've been just once, but I was impressed with my order (coctel de camarones, which is the Mexican version of shrimp cocktail) as well has DH's and DD's. DH had a whole fried snapper and while one side was a bit overdone, the fish itself was fresh and succulent. DD had a filet mignon with a dee-lish chimichurri-like cilantro-based sauce. DH has been several times for breakfast and swears by their huevos rancheros. It has a pretty extensive menu with both Mexican and TexMex offerings. Prices are reasonable for what you get. I plan to try it again in the near future and will report back.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: laurie

                                        Ok, inspired by my own post, we checked out Don Pancho Villa for dinner on Monday. DD and I both had the bistec a la Tampiquena, which was a perfectly seasoned and grilled skirt steak served with three enchiladas of your choice of either red or green sauce and guacamole. The enchiladas were Mexican style as opposed to the fat, overstuffed TexMex ones--three tortillas bathed in a chile ancho sauce, folded over and filled with a smattering of queso fresco. They were authentic and very good! But the steak is among the best of its type I've had, and reminded me of some of my fave meals I've had south of the border. They really know how to prepare steak, and at under 12 bucks, to boot.

                                        DH had the enchiladas especiales, a plate of 5 enchiladas in a rich tomato and chile sauce. They were quite good, and he was also very pleased with his order.

                                        The place was virtually empty the night we were there, a likely casualty of the economy and the slow season. I'd really like to see this place survive for selfish reasons, so please check it out if you are ever in the area. It's in Clearwater in the strip mall on the south side of Drew just west of U.S. 19, next to Savant.

                                        1. re: laurie

                                          I assume that this place is part of a chain, and that the Don Pancho Villa at Armenia Ave. and Tampa Bay Blvd. is part of the same chain?

                                          1. re: rebecca.kukla

                                            The waitress the other night told us that it is the same owner. My understanding is that this is the second of his restaurants. That's not quite what I think of as a "chain".

                                            1. re: laurie

                                              Good to know. The Armenia one certainly looks like part of a chain ... perhaps they have aspirations to chain-dom, though I agree that two doesn't count. I will try it now! It's right by my house but I have never been in there, precisely because it looked chain-like, even though I have been tempted.

                                              1. re: rebecca.kukla

                                                Great, let me know what you think. Of course I haven't (yet) sampled the menu extensively, but the fam and I have been consistently impressed by their steaks, especially for the price.

                                          2. re: laurie

                                            Cool, I'll definitely check the Tampa location out. You and Dr. Kukla seem like you have a good palette for evaluating Mexican food. Considering just Tampa proper, the only taquerias I consistently visit are Monterrey on Fletcher and Acapulco on MacDill. I visit Taco Bus pretty often, but rarely for the Tacos. In any event, looking forward to seeing how Don Pancho Villa measures up.

                                        2. Guadalajara on Hillsboro has a menu that reads much more authentic than a tex-mex joint. My wife and I went on a Sunday evening and were one of only two tables of grengos in the restaurant. I had a sampler plate that was good, but included a barbacoa (braised beef cheek) taco that was awesome. I think that with repeat visits and better ordering a fantastic meal lies within.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: yeah yeah

                                            A great new edition is Cinco de Mayo on 7th and 20th in Ybor. They have some awesome tacos for the adventurous including goat, al pastor, and beef tongue. The breaded steak is also great, and the margs are strong and cheap. I'm also partial because the staff barely speaks english.

                                            1. re: yeah yeah

                                              Just moved to Tampa for San Antonio. Where can you find Barbacoa, the all meat kind?

                                              1. re: wiskeygolf

                                                They have barbacoa at the taco bus (Taconazo on Hillsborough and Nebraska.) It's the beef kind. It's the only place I've had barbacoa so I can't tell you how it compares to how they make it in San Antonio.

                                                1. re: wiskeygolf

                                                  I also just moved from San Antonio, TX (home of the best Tex-Mex food) and am having a hard time finding good Mexican food in Tampa. Any suggestions?

                                                  1. re: superirma

                                                    Not really, most people on this board recommend The Bus on Hillsborough, however I think it's terrible. My go to for mexican is Jalapenos De Ybor in Ybor City on 15th between 5th and 6th. Very basic mexican, the pork tostada is very good, nothing else is fabulous.

                                            2. Super Saver Supermarket, south side of Fletcher Avenue at N. 20th Street. In addition to the market, hot breakfast and lunch chafing dishes. Menudo (tripe soup) daily! Piles of chicharrones! Good stuff.

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: jcmoore

                                                Ate at Del Valle on Fowler last week and really enjoyed it. Would recommend it to those looking for good Mexican food in Tampa and who (like myself) are let down by The Taco Bus. We also bought a tortilla press in the attached store. I should add we ordered off the menu (no buffet) and everything was made fresh.

                                                1. re: Laura N

                                                  Oh sure... They know me in there.... :-)
                                                  Regretfully, their lunch buffet is often way too cheapo, but the real food off the menu is pretty tasty...
                                                  For 'Tampa' I prefer Acapulco Grocery for Tacos and what might be my favorite Mexican treat so far, their Huaraches with the green sauce...
                                                  ----- and then over the bridge there's La Cabana del Tio on Drew Street...
                                                  My lunch there on Wednesday was nothing short of a religious experience...
                                                  Their hand-formed, crusty, toasty Gorditas with Cabeza were SO freaking special...
                                                  They're really just like mini Huaraches...
                                                  Also got an Empanada de Morcilla, but it was too spicy for me...

                                                  I'll hit Acapulco this week for sure after thinking about it now...

                                                  1. re: Mild Bill

                                                    I love Acupulco, but I must say that the Tripa is heads and shoulders better at Monterrey. I was actually quite disappointed in my tripa tacos at Acupulco last week, but the lengua was still pretty good & tasty.

                                                    1. re: askdrtodd

                                                      Funny, I would say just the opposite. I think it is much crispier and flavorful at Acapulco. We are going to have to settle this somehow.

                                                    2. re: Mild Bill

                                                      i kept trying del valle and wanting to like it. with monterrey around the corner, i can't bear to give DV another chance.

                                                      1. re: andy huse

                                                        I agree... No need...

                                                        There are consistency issues at all of these places it seems... It depends who's cooking, and it depends when the meats were cooked and chopped in advance of getting to your plate... A couple days in Tupperware could make a difference...
                                                        When I was at Acapulco last, the tripa Huaraches were perfection...
                                                        Better than the time before, when they were still good, but slightly less...

                                                        I dunno... Just talkin'...

                                                        1. re: Mild Bill

                                                          Cass- Bill may very well be right, but trust me I wish with every bone in my fat body that Acupulco had better tripa, it's right by my office. Monterrey the past 3 or 4 times I've been there has had life-altering tripa, and when coupled with that condiment bar, is a no-brainer. Rene, if you can read this OPEN A MONTERREY IN SOUTH OR CENTRAL TAMPA!!!!

                                                          1. re: askdrtodd

                                                            No way, Todd. St. Petersburg needs a combo Taco Bus/.Monterrey before Tampa gets any more!