Since opening its doors in South Beach back in 2004, Lime Fresh Mexican Grill has garnered almost universal praise for its healthy, humane approach to Tex-Mex cuisine. It's the only restaurant in Florida, and one of only six in the country, to be designated "Certified Humane" by Human Farm Animal Care, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals. So, what does an independent fast-casual eatery do after meeting with success? Why, what every independent fast-casual eatery is expected to do - expand! So owner-founder John Kunkel squeezed Lime's worth all over South Florida, then northward to Orlando, where, late last year, the first franchise in Central Florida opened to much fanfare. Kunkel then forged a deal with that barometer of culinary excellence Ruby Tuesday to help facilitate Lime's expansion up the Eastern Seaboard, leaving us to wonder if increased market share will come at the expense of food quality.
We heard tables at Lime's Miami-area joints were hard to come by, with lines consistently snaking out the door, so seeing a few bodies queued up on the sidewalk at Phillips Crossing elicited some groans - that is, until we noticed that the order counter was just a few feet from the front entrance. It seems that's a clever ploy to give the illusion of popularity, because no sooner had we perused the lime-wedge-shaped menu than we found ourselves taking a number and a seat in a comfy booth, passing a hot-sauce-laden salsa bar on the way.
Unfortunately, being served the sopapillas we'd ordered ($2.99) seconds after we sat down focused our attention on the competence of the service, or lack thereof. Our server took back the just-fried pastries, but instead of serving us a new batch after we'd finished our food, we got the same ones, which had rapidly cooled.
The restart to our meal fared a bit better as we noshed on a "trifecta" ($4.99) of ho-hum pico de gallo, a decent queso dip and good chunky guacamole. For a company that prides itself on eliminating waste, they sure do serve a lot of tortilla chips with everything, most of which end up being wasted. (If they were seasoned more assertively, we wouldn't have wasted so many.) We didn't so much like the classic quesadilla with humanely raised chicken as love the fact that it was served in half ($4.99) and whole ($7.99) portions. The "I Wanna Tijuana Taco" ($3.50) featured a soft flour tortilla wrapped around a corn taco shell with seasoned ground beef, but the flavors just didn't wow, and neither did the over-sauced grilled fish taco ($3.50). What wowed us was the steak 'n' cheese taco ($3.50), a Philly-Mex fusion standout that we'd gladly line up for. The "XL"-sized Big Cali Burrito ($7.99), served on a cast-iron skillet, wasn't the monstrous turbine of meat we were expecting, but the mix of beef, homemade rice, organic refried beans, jack and cheddar cheese and sour cream made it a dish worth ordering again.
Certainly Lime deserves praise for its dedication to offering a salubrious and agri-conscious brand of Tex-Mex fare, but its burgeoning expansion will test its ethics. We'll be keeping an eye on this chain to see if they keep delivering or if they've promised too much of a good thing.
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