I’ve got Tex-Mex on my mind after a recent visit to San Antonio. Luckily, the Bay area offers many options to satisfy my Tex-Mex and Mexican cravings — from buses to small storefronts to upscale restaurants — without having to hijack a plane to Texas or Tijuana.
BURRITO BOARDER 17 Third St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-209-0202; 12908 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-963-2400, burritoboarder.com. Dedicated to extreme sports boarding, and a favorite destination for burritos, fish tacos and healthy Mexican food, this “eco revolution” eatery was built with reclaimed and recyclable material and painted with low VOC paint. Even the silverware is 100-percent corn-based and compostable. Grab an all-organic cotton T-shirt on your way out.
CARMELITA’S MEXICAN RESTAURANT 5042 E. Bay Drive, Clearwater, 727-524-8226; 5211 Park St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-545-2956; 6218 66th St. N, Pinellas Park, 727-545-8226; 7705 Ulmerton Road, Largo, 727-533-8555, carmelitas.net. A perennial favorite in Pinellas County, Carmelita’s has been serving inexpensive, authentic fare and plenty of it for almost 30 years. Get a $1 discount on select items seven days a week, no coupon required.
CASA TINA 369 Main St., Dunedin, 727-734-9226, casatinas.com. Visit “Tina’s house” when you’re craving Mexican food in a charming downtown setting. Animal stock and lard are nowhere to be found in the dishes at this vegan-friendly destination. But don’t despair, meat lovers. Order Arroz Cabezon and get a double-dose of meat (pork and chicken). Enjoy organic, free-range eggs in one of the brunch selections.
ESTELA’S MEXICAN RESTAURANT 312 E. Brandon Blvd., Brandon, 813-657-1421; 209 E. Davis Blvd., Tampa, 813-251-0558; 4015 S. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-832-4030; 10478 Roosevelt Blvd. N, St. Petersburg, 727-578-5380; estelas.com. More gringo than Mexican, but both the lunch and dinner menus are large with plenty of specials and vegetarian options, and the margaritas can’t be beat. Free Wi-Fi is available if you have numbers to crunch along with your tacos.
J. BAJA’S MEXICAN GRILL 15309 Amberly Drive, Tampa, 813-632-0103, jbajas.com. This family-owned and operated destination is muy bueno. The Mexican pizza is ideal if you’re craving Mexican and Italian. If you desire straight-up Mexican, order your tacos, burritos, nachos or platter, and then customize your selection.
JUANITA’S RESTAURANT 1898 Drew Street, Clearwater, 727-449-0135, juanitas-restaurant.com. Serving authentic Puerto Rican cuisine, demonstrated with a menu written in Spanish. The smashed green plantains (mofongo), accompanied with your choice of meat, are sure to be a hit. Or go a la carte and order the fried pork chunks (carne frita) entrée. Catering is available and tailored to every budget. Take advantage of their $5 lunch specials on the weekdays. Daily specials are also offered.
LA CABANA DEL TIO 1709 Drew St., Clearwater, 727-466-0504. At first glance, it’s just a tiny, hole-in-a-strip-mall Mexican lunch counter. But go inside and experience some of the most delicious, authentic tacos in Tampa Bay —with tortillas right before your eyes. La Cabana Del Tio was the Editor’s Pick in CL’s Tournament of Tacos, so you know it has to be tasty. Cash only.
MEKENITA MEXICAN GRILLE 17623 Dale Mabry, Lutz, 813-264-1212, mekenitamexicangrille.com. Having won the readers’ vote in CL’s Tournament of Tacos, Mekenita is definitely worth a visit. The food is Pacific-style, the flavors are bold and the dishes are filling, especially the grande platos (large plates). Check out the creative daily chef specials and don’t pass up the gourmet salsa bar.
MIGUEL’S MEXICAN CAFE 3035 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-876-2587. Warm homemade chips, fresh salsa and creamy guacamole make great starters at Miguel’s. Follow those up with one of the many seafood dishes on the menu, like Fajitas Ixtapa, which satisfies your Mexian, seafood and meat cravings simultaneously.
PEG’S CANTINA 3038 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport, 727-328-2720, pegscantina.com. A true Gulfport gem, Peg’s is famous for gourmet Mexican fare served in a cozy, casual setting. The dishes are made to order, but they’re worth the wait. This means you’ll have time to try more selections from Peg’s Brew Pub, which are made by Cigar City Brewing’s Doug Dozark. Cash or personal checks only.
POBLANO’S MEXICAN GRILL AND BAR 2451 N. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater, 727-796-7080, poblanosmex.com. Offering a huge menu and huge portions. With so many choices, they bring you samples of dishes before you order to help make it a little less difficult. The lunch specials, including make your own combo, (Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.) are definitely worth the dinero. And the happy hour drink prices (offered daily 3-7 p.m.) will make you smile.
RED MESA CANTINA 128 Third St. S, St. Petersburg, 727-896-8226, redmesacantina.com. Located seconds from popular nightspots such as Push, this is an excellent place to hit before a night out on the town. Or for the morning after, try the Chorizo Burrito with Chihuahua cheese during weekend brunch. Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 3-7 p.m.
RED MESA RESTAURANT 4912 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-527-8728, redmesarestaurant.com. A St. Petersburg staple, Red Mesa is known for mouthwatering Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, and seafood, in a classy setting. Its popularity may mean a long wait on a busy night, but that just gives you an excuse to grab a glass of their homemade sangria.
TACO BUS 913 E. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, 813-232-5889; 324 Central Ave, St. Petersburg; 505 Franklin St., Tampa, 813-397-2800; 2320 E. Fletcher Ave., Tampa (opening June 7) tampatacobus.com. The Bus has garnered a cult following in Tampa Bay, so owner Rene Valenzuela opened an additional location earlier this year, in downtown Tampa. Ironically, this new location isn’t a bus at all, but does have a charming school bus replica attached to its storefront. It’s simple, tasty street fare with many vegetarian options available.
Not one for beer, I'll vouch for Eric the cook. I tend to get the…
Awesome job B.T.G.. Can't wait to get out to Florida to try it. I'm down…
My Happier Son!
Congrats Eric!!! BTW the beer is really good!