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Best tacos in Tampa and Pinellas?

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  • Bries Feb 17, 2009 04:28 PM
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Brian from Creative Loafing here. Anyone who reads the food section of CL might remember the big March Madness-style tournaments we've held the last two years, with pizza in 2007 and burgers last year. 64 places, head to head, full bracket.

This year is tacos, and I need recommendations. Who has the best tacos in the Bay area, from fine-dining down to corner bodegas?

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  1. The Taco Bus!!!!! El Taconazo is my go to place when I have a craving for them, and has been since the first bite. If I bring the to-go container somewhere and let a friend take a bite, they end up hooked as well.

    2 Replies
    1. re: TampaAurora

      Hi Aurora. Where's the taco bus located?

      1. re: chucktownlady

        It is at the southeast corner of Nebraska and Hillsborough.

    2. On the Pinellas side, I really like La Casa del Tia on Drew in Clearwater. Excellent tacos!

      John

      4 Replies
      1. re: RibDog

        I think you mean La Cabaña del Tio. And I would nominate them above the taco bus. Taconazo uses the same mass produced, shelf-stable tortillas that I can buy at Publix. Tio makes their tortillas in house fresh while you wait. Some of the meats I like better at El Taconazo, and others are quite good at La Cabaña del Tio, but the tortilla thing really gives the latter the leading edge. I also really like El Toro Negro is Kenneth City, but I'm ashamed to admit it's been many months since I've been over there. They have a bigger menu than the aforementioned establishments, so often when I visit I don't order any tacos. They have wonderful gorditas, I can't help myself but order those each time. But please do check out ETN for your taco research.

        1. re: Agent Orange

          Sorry, brain fart!

          1. re: Agent Orange

            I was just at El Toro Negro - though we didn't have the tacos - we really loved the corn tortillas - homemade. Yummy

            1. re: dmfnole

              I didn't know El Toro Negro made their own tortillas. I must get me there immediately.

        2. Hey, Brian. Love your writing.

          Although the quality has slipped a bit since it's opening, I really like Mekenita Mexican Grille (formerly Mariposa). I also love Red Mesa in St. Pete and hear great things about Zurritos on Central Avenue. Finally, I know a lot of hounds will jump all over me for saying this, but I really like the tacos at Tijuana Flats. They're simple, but mighty tasty.

          5 Replies
          1. re: RBTampa

            Brian,
            I am very psyched about this. I hope this will encourage all of us to pop into the places that we have been neglecting. (I took one for the team tonight by stopping into Las Rasquachita on Armenia near Hillsborough. One of the tacos tasted and looked like tuna). In addition to the places already listed, I like the Tacos at Acapulco Grocery on MacDill and Cypress. Andy recently made the discovery of Del Valle on Fowler next to Trang which is also very good. Bradenton is too far, I guess, but the taco stand at the Red Barn Flea Market is good. There is a new bus on Armenia that says Mexico Style. I am eager to check it out just to see what "style" means. This is a big service to our community, Brian. I am glad that you are taking it on.

            1. re: CFishman

              I would hope that any taco that "looked and tasted like tuna" would be called a "tuna taco" on the menu because if I order a taco and get something that in any way reminds me of tuna...there's gonna be trouble, big time trouble, at the taco stand.

              1. re: CFishman

                Actually, suggestions for Sarasota and Bradenton are welcome, too,, since I'll be replicating for the Creative Loafing paper down there. Thanks!

                1. re: Bries

                  For Bradenton, check out Maria's in the Red Barn Flea Market and also the Latin grocery Acapulco Tropical (prepared foods and taqueria in the back) on US 41.

              2. re: RBTampa

                We finally made it up to Mekenita a couple weeks ago and their tacos and ceviche are really really good. I also liked their housemade salsa. Prices were reasonable though I won't order beer there again since it was through the roof.

              3. My house with the Old El Paso taco kit and some type of mystery meat which has been sitting in the bottom of the freezer for who knows how long. I mean, why go anywhere else?!?
                Chihuahua's on South MacDill isn't bad. It's where some of us in the office usually go when we crave Mexican food. I take my taco's with the marinated pork. Great lunch specials too for a reasonable price.

                1. Brian,
                  I love your articles in "Creative Loafing." Keep 'em coming! I, too, want to second El Taconazo (a/k/a "The Taco Bus"), just East of 275 and Hillsborough. These are the best tacos I've had in years and are certainly equal to and reminiscent of the tacos I had in Saltillo, Mexico, when I lived there as an exchange student. Like most Mexican tacos, they're soft and based on a corn tortilla. For harder ones, you'd have to go elsewhere, but they are certainly top of the line. Also, be certain to try the red and green sauces that are on the tables in plastic squeeze bottles. They make the tacos even better.

                  1. La Cabana del Tio, in Clearwater on Drew St., west of Keene. It's the local favorite among Hidalguenses (the local Mexican population) and have the best housemade tortillas ever! My faves are the al pastor (pork in a red chile sauce) and the bistec con nopales (beef with cactus). Bring cash, and it doesn't hurt to brush up on your Spanish; I've had to translate for fellow customers on more than one occasion. And pick up a pound or two of fresh, steaming tortillas to enjoy at home later on (hint: as soon as you get home, flip and restack each tortilla before storing in the fridge; otherwise they'll stick together).

                    For upscale tacos, I looove Casa Tina's Tacos Guadalajara, if they're still offering them. And I've been meaning to check out the new Red Mesa Cantina since it opened a few weeks ago; I'll try to do so this weekend and report back.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: laurie

                      Yep, La Cabana is my absolute favorite so far. As with many other Tampa area establishments- I don't agree with the hype about the Taco Bus. Went there again yesterday and did not care for their chicken tacos. They also put tomatoes and cabbage on the tacos in addition to marinated onions and a tiny bit of cilantro. I prefer the simpler toppings at authentic Mexican places of fresh onions and lots of cilantro. I think Taco Bus may be a bit gringo-ized.

                      1. re: laurie

                        We checked out the new Red Mesa Cantina last weekend and very much enjoyed the grub, which isn't traditional Mexican per se but more Mexican-Latin fusion. Of the tacos, we particularly enjoyed the pollo pibil (close in flavor to what we've enjoyed in the middle of the Yucatan, home of this dish), although it was served lukewarm (I suspect that the kitchen did not sufficiently heat the tortillas). The carne asada tacos were also tasty, although we had the same complaint about the temperature. Skip the rajas--they were disappointing, with two almost-microscopic slivers of green chiles which were barely cooked, much less toasted and peeled like rajas are supposed to be, stretched with cheaper, easier to prepare potatoes and other vegetables. I'll take my home-cooked rajas on La Cabana del Tio tortillas any day, thank you very much. But one must-try untraditional dish is the mofongo. This isn't like any Puerto Rican mofongo I've ever had, but is more like shredded Mexican carnitas meat formed into balls with a tiny bit of mashed plantain to hold them together, bathed in a citrusy chimichurri sauce--divine! This place reminds me of Taco Diner in Dallas--Gringo-friendly yet tasty tacos offered in upscale digs at relatively reasonable prices.

                      2. Brian, Del Valle should have made the list over Chico's Wood Fired grill truly. Boy, that North Tampa area is pretty broad: from Westchase to Lutz to Temple Terrace- glad gas is relatively low right now.

                        California tacos: very good carne asada, veggies and tortillas were fresh (though the cilantro needed a bit more flavor). Chicken was a bit dry and flavorless but I was impressed with his admonitions to "carry it level please"- he's had too many calls back from people who failed to do this and ended up with taco disaster.

                        1. I have been away from the board for quite a while....

                          I am a huge fan of the tacos served at the back of Acapulco Grocery at MacDill and Cyprus. Each time I go I am more sure they are the best in town!

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: rebecca.kukla

                            welcome back ; )

                            1. re: rhnault

                              Yeah, I am glad you are back too. I was starting to think that the conversation was taking place somewhere else. I do wish we could get up interest for a Tampa board like Chicago's: www.lthforum.com .

                              1. re: CFishman

                                Thanks! I have to start posting and reading regularly again ... I have missed it! While we are on the topic, has anyone other than me noticed that Mi Mexico seems to have changed chefs or plan or something and is not as good as it used to be? :-(

                                1. re: rebecca.kukla

                                  For whatever reason, I have not had good luck at Mi Mexico. The first time I was there they were mopping the floor while I was eating. There was something aversive about smelling the cleaning fluid and eating at the same time. I went back recently and it was fine but it's not going to displace my favorite places.

                          2. At 1428 e. Fletcher is Maya's Mexican and it's been Maya's for at least a year. Cute place but only go for tacos if you have lots of time and don't mind having mediocre food. Waited today for a solid 30 minutes for a single order of tacos with no one else in the restaurant ahead of me before asking for them packed to go. They were not worth the wait. Gristly, bland meat.

                            Sabor Latino 4810 East Busch Blvd, phone 8139801771. Chicken tacos will have me back- the tortillas may have been a tad rubbery, but still good. Beef sopes were piled high with queso, lettuce, tomatoes, refried beans and beef. Place was very clean and had space for a small group- bathroom was spotless. Closed on Wednesdays but you get 15% off your bill if you go for a weekday lunch. They had barbacoa and tripe on the menu as well. They still don’t beat La Cabana del Tio but a convenient choice for East Tampa/ Temple Terrace.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: rikkikm

                              Yeah, I screwed up on Maya's, should be fixed from now on. I like Sabor Latino as well, and think they rival Taco Bus for that part of town. I had never been to Cabana del Tio before this competition, but I have to say that eating there is worth every last bit of driving around town I've done for the Tournament.

                              Still haven't been to Del Valle -- plan to soon because I want to do a write-up on places that didn't make the list but should have -- but don't knock Chico's too much. Their tacos were nontraditional but surprisingly tasty.

                              Yet again, thanks for all the suggestions. If you have any favorite places that didn't make the Tournament, other than Del Valle, keep 'em coming

                            2. WHAT ABOUT JALAPENOS DE YBOR? I was very disapointed that it didnt make the list!!!! The only downfall is they are only open until 2:00 M-SAturday and closed on Sunday's, but they are by far the best Mexican I have had in the Tampa area. I ate at The Bus(El Taconazo) for years but Jalapenos De Ybor has taken their place. They are on either 15th or 17th St.(can't think of the exact street right now) & 5th Ave. in Ybor City, yum yum yum...home made tortillas, homemade salsa, and they serve breakfast to!