Cinco De Mayo is officially upon us and I for one; am ecstatic. Sure, I indulge in my fair share of Mexican cuisine a good 200 days out of the year but on this day, those Taco Bus tacos, Miguel’s margaritas and Estella’s enchiladas just taste that much more delicious. This is a holiday that for Americans-with no Mexican heritage, means just one thing; okay, make that two. Good grubbing and sweet sipping. Spicy and saucy concoctions-classics and reinventions- I like it all. Tampa has quite the array of taco joints, unfussy fiesta hot-spots and upscale eateries-all catering to the Mexican loving palates. I’ve got a little bit of everything for my fellow burrito, chile relleno and enchilada enthusiasts. From the casual "grab and go's" to the delicious date night destinations; they all can be found in my top 10 Tampa Mexican spots.
9255 N. 56th Street, Temple Terrace
13731 N. Dale Mabry Hwy, Carrolwood
Massive portions, averagely authentic, halfway decent service. Known for their traditional, no frills food, this Mexican restaurant may be better suited for those who would like to celebrate the holiday by eating stuffed tortillas, beans and rice but are resisting the crazy crowds and gourmet ambiance of some newer, innovative spins on the spicy and saucy fare. Atmosphere is relatively drab and servers speak very little English but their dishes are consistently tasty. Oh, I almost forgot to mention…they boast a 2-7PM happy hour everyday.
9) California Tacos to Go
1450 Skipper Rd. Tampa
Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, this hole in the wall taco “stand” makes a mean fish taco (or any taco for that matter). These Taco buffs came all the way from San Diego to set up shop and my goodness, I'm so grateful. Casual and best bought on-the-go, their reasonably priced tacos, rellenos, tostadas, and burritos would be ideal for those celebrators hosting a party of their own.
Multiple locations (Davis Islands, South Dale Mabry and Plant City)
Humongous plates with melted cheese galore, these restaurateurs do not mess around in the name of Mexican cuisine! This is the kind of joint where guests should stick to the basics like combination plates including tacos, enchiladas and burritos. Everything I’ve ever ordered has been devoured. No creative spins, these people like to keep it classic and they do it pretty well. Go hungry and leave undeniably, insanely stuffed.
7) Green Lemon (formally known as "The Lime")
915 South Howard St. Soho District, Tampa
Sure, I know this trendy establishment is hardly authentic. However, if you are looking for a lively night (or day) of tequila shots and margarita madness, The Green Lemon is right up your alley. Packed with college students and young professionals, you’re sure to have a good time (if this is your kind of scene). Grub is not too shabby either. Not aiming toward the ethnic, they do have serious and scrumptious originality in their playful Mexican fushion dishes like their chimichurri seared tuna bowl and Mexican Gyro.
6) Red Mesa Cantina
128 3rd Street South, Downtown St. Petersburg
I’ve heard mixed reviews about Red Mesa, but I refuse to be swayed. Their food has always been fresh, fun and flavorful. The ambiance is awesome too. During the day, one can opt to relax on their patio where live music is sometimes an occurrence. At night, it is high energy with loud music and lively crowds as it is the bottom floor neighbor to the hip nightclub, Push. Their ceviche, Ahi tuna tacos, and malfongo are all superb but whatever you do, be sure to try the duck taco. It is sweet and savory nirvana. Their hand-muddled margaritas and caipirinhas are pretty luscious too.
5) Cantina Laredo
2000 Piazza Ave. Wesley Chapel
Fancy feeding- well, at least in the name of Mexican cuisine. I normally don't include corporate restaurants in recommendations or reviews, but Laredo has impressed me with each and every visit. Attached to Wiregrass mall in Lutz, it is a bit on the pricier side but if you're looking for phenomenal service aligned with sophistication in atmosphere and plating, then you’ve hit the jackpot. They claim authenticity but I’m not sold. However, their gourmet goodies are diverse and deliciously different from your standard Mexican fare. Guacamole made table side is worth every penny and their vegetarian Enchiladas de Avocado could even please the most ravenous carnivore.
4) Taco Bus
913 East Hillsborough Ave, Seminole Heights
505 North Franklin Street, Downtown Tampa
2324 Central Ave. St. Petersburg
If you live in Tampa and have yet to dine at the Taco Bus, you ought to be ashamed. There are no excuses. This dive has earned Tampa quite the reputation for Mexican street fare-it has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives , Man vs. Food and Eat Street. Their food is top notch in complex flavor quality. They put serious love into all of their mouth-watering marinated meats that they so generously stuff into your choice of taco, burrito, tostada or tortas. Everything is out of this world. Do yourself a favor..Go now.
3035 West Kennedy Blvd.
This is a weekend staple for me and is also probably where I will spend my Cinco De Mayo. I know it is not the most authentic eatery, but their dishes are just excellent. I’ve sampled numerous menu items-all very tasty- but their seafood selections are by far their secret specialties. The seafood enchilada is stuffed with gigantic jumbo scallops, shrimp and crab. It is take your breath away, fantastic. I am also a fan of their Tacos Michoacan. They are healthy and so yummy with an abundance of cilantro, queso cotijo, crunchy cabbage, onions and substantial slices of avocado. With a new elegant dining room and a serene patio added with recent renovations they took the mood to a whole new level.
Gulf Blvd. and 64th Ave. St. Pete Beach
Easy to miss, this insanely delectable diner of Mexican fare looks like nothing from the outside. Attached to a small hotel, just a mile past The Don Cesar, I wonder how this mysterious wonder stays in business. I remind myself each time when I drool over their large variety of fresh hot salsas, enchiladas, and world renowned Mole. This place is legit. Going to the beach on May 5th? Go here after. You will not be disappointed.
1) Casa Tina
365 Main Street, Dunedin
For those who want to venture out of Tampa, Casa Tina is most definitely worth ever mile. The second you walk in, you feel right at home. Okay, maybe the home of an artsy Mexican who cooks incredible food all day long. This place is truly a prized peace with their health and authenticity conscious framework on food. They set the bar high for Mexican food and they know it. I could go on and on about their succulent meats but truth be told, they also have numerous vegetarian and vegan options that are luscious as well. Their mole sauced enchiladas are by far the most godly Mexican dish known to man and their drinks are pretty stellar too. Casa Tina is a uniquely fun and delicious experience right in the heart of quaint downtown Dunedin. Dining here and drinking at the cool local neighboring bars would probably be the most perfect Cinco one could have.