Mexican in Orlando with Kid Friendly

Clear Filters
Loading...
35 results

    No one should have to make up their mind about lunch while listening to Pat Benatar belt out "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." But we gave it a try at the new Baja Burrito Kitchen at Colonial Marketplace. Standing in the "place your order here" spot by the counter, our attention ricocheted between burritos, enchiladas, soft tacos and quesadillas. And we hadn't even gotten to the salsa bar yet.

    Looking past the neon lighting, beach-scene murals and picture windows overlooking the parking lot, we wanted to imagine ourselves on the rugged Pacific coastline. That's where the cuisine takes its cue, from the deadly-hot chilis that grow wild in the desert and the seafood that's plucked from the surf. The menu is not that rustic but has more of a "Cal-Mex" spin: Soft tacos are stuffed with fish, burritos are packed with healthy grilled meats, and beans are stewed, not refried.

    Looking past the neon lighting, beach-scene murals and picture windows overlooking the parking lot, we wanted to imagine ourselves on the rugged Pacific coastline. That's where the cuisine takes its cue, from the deadly-hot chilis that grow wild in the desert and the seafood that's plucked from the surf. The menu is not that rustic but has more of a "Cal-Mex" spin: Soft tacos are stuffed with fish, burritos are packed with healthy grilled meats, and beans are stewed, not refried.

    After placing our orders, we chose seats and waited just a few minutes for delivery. The "Baja burrito" ($4.95) is a popular item, and it's a chunk of a meal – a steamed flour tortilla wrapped around a juicy conglomeration of char-grilled steak, black beans, onions, cilantro, cheese and sour cream. It was even better after a trip to the salsa bar, which features six ways to pack heat. Our favorite was the "fire roasted chipotle" salsa, a medium-strength version with blackened Roma tomatoes. Do heed the warnings on the labels. The formidable "habañero" salsa glows orange, and one drop is all it takes.

    After placing our orders, we chose seats and waited just a few minutes for delivery. The "Baja burrito" ($4.95) is a popular item, and it's a chunk of a meal – a steamed flour tortilla wrapped around a juicy conglomeration of char-grilled steak, black beans, onions, cilantro, cheese and sour cream. It was even better after a trip to the salsa bar, which features six ways to pack heat. Our favorite was the "fire roasted chipotle" salsa, a medium-strength version with blackened Roma tomatoes. Do heed the warnings on the labels. The formidable "habañero" salsa glows orange, and one drop is all it takes.

    We loved the grilled soft tacos so much that we plan on getting to know each and every one. The best on this day was the "fish taco Baja style" ($2.75), a grilled soft flour tortilla crimped around a fried fillet of cod, topped with shredded cabbage and drizzled with creamy cilantro-lime sauce. Running a close second, "spicy steamed shrimp" ($2.75) were mildly seasoned and fresh.

    We loved the grilled soft tacos so much that we plan on getting to know each and every one. The best on this day was the "fish taco Baja style" ($2.75), a grilled soft flour tortilla crimped around a fried fillet of cod, topped with shredded cabbage and drizzled with creamy cilantro-lime sauce. Running a close second, "spicy steamed shrimp" ($2.75) were mildly seasoned and fresh.

    Unfortunately, the "Baja Kitchen combo" ($6.25) was having a bad day – the grilled chicken strips were dry and uninspired. Had they not been overcooked, they would have set off the rest of the dish, which was a hot and flavorful collection of stewed black beans, seasoned rice and soft flour tortillas.

    Unfortunately, the "Baja Kitchen combo" ($6.25) was having a bad day – the grilled chicken strips were dry and uninspired. Had they not been overcooked, they would have set off the rest of the dish, which was a hot and flavorful collection of stewed black beans, seasoned rice and soft flour tortillas.

    While Baja Burrito Kitchen's cooking is formulaic, its freshness is without question. Everything is cooked to order. The restaurant is a welcome addition to the Colonial-Bumby area, whether for a quick pit stop after shopping or for takeout.

    OK, I'm going to come right out and admit it. When I first heard of a 24-hour Mexican takeout restaurant, I shuddered. Having been out of college for many years, the idea of fast-food-grade tacos before sunrise made me just a little bit queasy.

    And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

    And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

    Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

    Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

    I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

    I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

    Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

    Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

    And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

    And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

    Beto's won't be winning any prizes for its decor, but the interior of the nondescript building (which at various times was a roast-chicken stand, a bagel place and a Chinese takeout) is immaculately clean and comfortable enough for a not-so-quick eat-in, any time of the day or night. Be prepared to bring half home.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Chipotle in Winter Park.

    As any MTV-er can attest, award-winning Chipotle is Ozzy Osbourne's favorite burrito haunt. And now the Denver-based chain (there are more than 300 across the country) of sorta Tex-Mex food has moved into the area, one that already has quite a few competitors. So the Ozzy endorsement sure doesn't hurt.

    The stand-alone structure at the corner of Fairbanks and Orlando avenues has an industrial look, with rusted iron plates adorning the outside walls and lots of chrome and halogen lighting inside. The front door (in the back by the parking lot) leads directly to the pickup stations where ordering and paying occurs, and then you get to drag your humongous burrito to a table.

    The stand-alone structure at the corner of Fairbanks and Orlando avenues has an industrial look, with rusted iron plates adorning the outside walls and lots of chrome and halogen lighting inside. The front door (in the back by the parking lot) leads directly to the pickup stations where ordering and paying occurs, and then you get to drag your humongous burrito to a table.

    Did I mention the food is enormous? We're talking 20-ounce burritos, ranging from $4.95 to $5.50, also available in a "bol" without flour wrapping.

    Did I mention the food is enormous? We're talking 20-ounce burritos, ranging from $4.95 to $5.50, also available in a "bol" without flour wrapping.

    Good thing the website (www.chipotle.com) offers an interactive depiction of what they call "the line," where you pick salsas, meats and toppings, because once you're in front of the sneezeguard, there aren't any labels on things, and the constant cry of, "What's that?" gets annoying.

    Good thing the website (www.chipotle.com) offers an interactive depiction of what they call "the line," where you pick salsas, meats and toppings, because once you're in front of the sneezeguard, there aren't any labels on things, and the constant cry of, "What's that?" gets annoying.

    "That" is a choice of grilled steak, marinated in the namesake pepper (a chipotle is a smoked and dried jalape'o); hotter shredded "barbacoa" beef; braised "carnitas" (pork); or grilled chicken.

    "That" is a choice of grilled steak, marinated in the namesake pepper (a chipotle is a smoked and dried jalape'o); hotter shredded "barbacoa" beef; braised "carnitas" (pork); or grilled chicken.

    Of the filling choices that we sampled, the chicken was the worst. The all dark-meat pieces are too small to stay in the tortilla wrap for long, and so salt-laden it's hard to tell if the meat is spicy or not. Not to mention the rather high rice-to-meat ratio. A better bet is the steak, medium rare and a bit less salty, allowing the spices to take their rightful place.

    Of the filling choices that we sampled, the chicken was the worst. The all dark-meat pieces are too small to stay in the tortilla wrap for long, and so salt-laden it's hard to tell if the meat is spicy or not. Not to mention the rather high rice-to-meat ratio. A better bet is the steak, medium rare and a bit less salty, allowing the spices to take their rightful place.

    The carnitas -- a version unique to Chipotle -- comes from free-range pigs, raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and is worth ordering for its blend of thyme, bay and cracked pepper.

    The carnitas -- a version unique to Chipotle -- comes from free-range pigs, raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and is worth ordering for its blend of thyme, bay and cracked pepper.

    Vegetarians can have a nice meal, as the salsas, black beans, fajita veggies and guacamole are all meat-free. The guac is too smooth to make a real impression on me, but the roasted chili-corn salsa is crisp and fresh-tasting and there's a nice garlic bite to the beans.

    Vegetarians can have a nice meal, as the salsas, black beans, fajita veggies and guacamole are all meat-free. The guac is too smooth to make a real impression on me, but the roasted chili-corn salsa is crisp and fresh-tasting and there's a nice garlic bite to the beans.

    One would think that the Mexican "McPollo" sandwich is as close as McDonald's would get to Tex-Mex, and it turns out that Chipotle is another offshoot of those burger folks, as is Boston Market.

    One would think that the Mexican "McPollo" sandwich is as close as McDonald's would get to Tex-Mex, and it turns out that Chipotle is another offshoot of those burger folks, as is Boston Market.

    All in all, I'd rather go to Chipotle than a McD any day, but unless the Tex-Mex outlets start popping up on every corner, they probably won't replace the burrito spots you've already adopted as your favorite.

    Sad to say, there's not much of anything around lately that qualifies as genuine. Oranges are artificially colored, desserts are "naturally" sweetened, and don't get me started with the whole genetically altered deal. So finding an authentic eating place like Garibaldi's Mexican Restaurant is a treat.

    The restaurant is named after Plaza Garibaldi, both a tourist center and local gathering place in Mexico City, alive with an almost perpetual fiesta. Garibaldi's isn't quite that frenetic, but the constant traffic on North Semoran (near the corner of Colonial Drive) brings a steady flow of diners. By all means, even if the inside dining area is free, sit outdoors (since they opened a couple of years ago, they've added an oversized fountain that muffles the noise) on a balmy night and fantasize about even sunnier climes.

    The restaurant is named after Plaza Garibaldi, both a tourist center and local gathering place in Mexico City, alive with an almost perpetual fiesta. Garibaldi's isn't quite that frenetic, but the constant traffic on North Semoran (near the corner of Colonial Drive) brings a steady flow of diners. By all means, even if the inside dining area is free, sit outdoors (since they opened a couple of years ago, they've added an oversized fountain that muffles the noise) on a balmy night and fantasize about even sunnier climes.

    It's probably a credit to the research department of a certain fast-food chain that you will recognize many of the terms on Garibaldi's extensive menu: gordita, chimi-changa and chalupa all make an appearance. These ain't no Madison Avenue inventions but real food done in the traditional way. And perhaps that's the problem with "authentic" – it's generally not very flamboyant or exciting.

    "Fajitas de camerón" ($14) is just grilled shrimp, onions and peppers served with rice, beans, guacamole and tortillas for wrapping – not fancy but certainly tasty. "Flautas verdes" is nothing but corn tortillas rolled tightly around seasoned beef or chicken, then deep fried and topped with cheese and green salsa; it doesn't have fireworks or talking dogs, but it's $6.50 well spent.

    "Fajitas de camerón" ($14) is just grilled shrimp, onions and peppers served with rice, beans, guacamole and tortillas for wrapping – not fancy but certainly tasty. "Flautas verdes" is nothing but corn tortillas rolled tightly around seasoned beef or chicken, then deep fried and topped with cheese and green salsa; it doesn't have fireworks or talking dogs, but it's $6.50 well spent.

    Original dishes that do stand out are "fajitas Garibaldi" ($11), which adds chorizo sausage to a combination of chicken and beef on a sizzling iron pan, and "chile Colorado" ($7.95), a spicy beef and chili sauce platter. (And yes, it is served with beans – on the side). The selection of specialties is wide, but if you'd be happier with the standbys of tacos, burritos and enchiladas, there are 30 different combinations of same, along with chile rellenos and chalupas (all $6.50-$7).

    Mexico's Plaza Garibaldi is also known for strolling mariachi bands, and we were quite thrilled to see a band tuning up in the parking lot when we drove up. The band is there several nights a week (call ahead). Be aware that they don't "stroll" but, like their compatriots in Mexico City, charge $15 a song if you want them to play. If you enjoy the authentic, ask for a real folk song (I suggest "La Negrita"), the experience is unique and worth the price just as the food is worth the trip.

    Franchised Mexican restaurants tend to have lots of thematic architecture, lots of young preppy servers and lots of boring food. I've had my fill of chimichangas and fried ice cream.

    But I do like Jalapeño's, which advertises and delivers "home made" Mexican food. Here they offer traditional items like mole and menudo. The menu even includes lengua ("slices of beef tongue seasoned with our own spices") for $7.25.

    But I do like Jalapeño's, which advertises and delivers "home made" Mexican food. Here they offer traditional items like mole and menudo. The menu even includes lengua ("slices of beef tongue seasoned with our own spices") for $7.25.

    Of course they have tacos and fajitas, but the emphasis here seems to be on authenticity rather than marketing savvy.

    Of course they have tacos and fajitas, but the emphasis here seems to be on authenticity rather than marketing savvy.

    Great music more than made up for a modest interior decorated with bullfight ads, travel posters of Chichen Itza, glossy photos of Selena and other assorted art. Piñatas hang from the ceiling, and colorful blankets serve as tablecloths. We were quickly served chips and a fresh salsa with a pleasant hint of cilantro, and service remained good throughout.

    Great music more than made up for a modest interior decorated with bullfight ads, travel posters of Chichen Itza, glossy photos of Selena and other assorted art. Piñatas hang from the ceiling, and colorful blankets serve as tablecloths. We were quickly served chips and a fresh salsa with a pleasant hint of cilantro, and service remained good throughout.

    As an appetizer we enjoyed the sopes, three tortillalike shells -- half the size but twice as thick as usual -- topped with beans, beef, and chicken ( $4.25). There was plenty of food for two people to share. Among the other appetizers are nachos, melted cheese with pork sauce, and chicken or tortilla soup.

    As an appetizer we enjoyed the sopes, three tortillalike shells -- half the size but twice as thick as usual -- topped with beans, beef, and chicken ( $4.25). There was plenty of food for two people to share. Among the other appetizers are nachos, melted cheese with pork sauce, and chicken or tortilla soup.

    Our entrees were flautas de pollo ($5.50) and chile poblano ($7.95), which were both good. Each was served with refried beans, a scoop of mildly seasoned rice and shredded lettuce with dressing. The flautas were quite large, with shredded chicken wrapped in corn tortillas the texture of puff pastry. My large green chili was stuffed with cheese, battered, fried and served alongside an enchilada. Each item on our plates had a clear, fresh and distinct flavor.

    Our entrees were flautas de pollo ($5.50) and chile poblano ($7.95), which were both good. Each was served with refried beans, a scoop of mildly seasoned rice and shredded lettuce with dressing. The flautas were quite large, with shredded chicken wrapped in corn tortillas the texture of puff pastry. My large green chili was stuffed with cheese, battered, fried and served alongside an enchilada. Each item on our plates had a clear, fresh and distinct flavor.

    Other interesting options are carne asada a la Tampequina (grilled steak), camarones a la Veracruzana (sautéed shrimp with tomatoes) and Chicago-style burritos made with strips of steak. There are several combo platters as well as children's plates. Everything is affordable with the most expensive entree topping out at $8.95.

    Other interesting options are carne asada a la Tampequina (grilled steak), camarones a la Veracruzana (sautéed shrimp with tomatoes) and Chicago-style burritos made with strips of steak. There are several combo platters as well as children's plates. Everything is affordable with the most expensive entree topping out at $8.95.

    The menu includes margaritas, common Mexican beers and imported soft drinks. The prepared-to-order sangria ($1.95) was particularly good.

    The menu includes margaritas, common Mexican beers and imported soft drinks. The prepared-to-order sangria ($1.95) was particularly good.

    Jalapeño's is fun, cheap, and filling. It doesn't have the atmosphere and conviviality of the big chain restaurants, but it has a style of its own.

    One of my first international culinary trysts was with Mexican food. In Los Angeles, where I grew up, the lure of a taco stand was never farther away than a nearby side street. Even now, on cool, dry days when the sun is shining, I still crave the simplicity of marinated meat barely wrapped in the skin of a soft corn tortilla – eaten while standing, of course.

    It took me years of testing and trying to discover this same joy in Florida and build up a cache of Mexican places I frequent. When I hear of a new Mexican place, I can't resist checking it out for myself – especially when the owners are Mexican and have a track record, as with Las Margaritas on Semoran Boulevard (aka State Road 436). It was opened in April by Javier Martinez, a man originally from Guadalajara who migrated to the United States at age 17. Although he never worked in the restaurant biz back in Mexico, he was sucked into the chaos of restaurant life after moving here, starting as a dishwasher and working his way up. He now owns three restaurants, two in Port St. Lucie and this new location. How could you not appreciate this man's dedication and hard work?

    But how is the food? Most of it was OK – not as good as I wanted it to be and not quite good enough to live up to my favorite haunts. Still, if you're in the area, it's well worth a try.

    This saffron-colored cottage is inviting on this otherwise desultory stretch of 436. With a plethora of neon signs lighting the windows, it reminds me of a colorful piñata about to burst at the seams. The first time I stepped inside I was shocked to find it so still and silent. My friends and I were the only patrons for the first third of our meal, which was somehow unsettling. I looked around the festive room at the empty wooden chairs engraved with white lilies. The room desperately needed people to complete the scene.

    Las Margaritas claims to focus on food from Jalisco, a coastal region in the west of Mexico. Because of this, they offer more seafood dishes than your average Mexican joint. In fact, our fish and seafood selections were some of the best items we tried. Many of the shrimp dishes are gracefully seasoned and erupting with flavor, like the basic arroz con camaron ($10.95) – shrimp with rice. The subtly spiced marinade brought out the sweet, sharp taste in the delicate pink flesh, paired nicely with aromatic rice.

    For a restaurant that opened with the intention of bringing authentic food to Orlando, they seem to have a lot of perfunctory Americanized selections – why bother with nachos and jalapeño poppers? Or cheeseburgers? And fajitas, although a tasty addition to Mexican-American repertoire, are definitely a Tex-Mex creation.

    Among the dishes I wished I had skipped was the queso flameado ($3.75), which had both the taste and texture of Cheez Whiz, rather than billowy mounds of hot queso blanco.

    A shredded beef taco ($2) came with a stale, hard corn tortilla and was disappointing. The beef was well-seasoned, but looked like something served in a school lunchroom – small grains of meat (and sometimes gristle) clung to each other in a shallow pool of grease. Enchiladas ($8.25) fared better, with shredded beef and real cheese. The mole that smothered this dish was flavorful, but slightly sweet, lacking the spiciness and acidity of a well-balanced dish. One of my friends got the pollo combo ($13.75), which came with garlic sautéed shrimp – the best part of the meal. Unfortunately, the chicken was dry. The refried beans were a tad mealy but full-flavored.

    If you need a reason to go to Las Margaritas, it is to support a man who has worked hard to get where he is today. But don't fool yourself into thinking that this is the most authentic Mexican food available. It's just OK Mexican food served by someone who once ate authentic food on his home turf.

    A friend from Los Angeles had barely settled into his temporary home here when we called to see if he wanted to have dinner. But as soon as we pulled up at Los Charros in Altamonte Springs, I started to second-guess my decision. What was I thinking, taking a Pacific Coaster to eat Mexican on his first day in Orlando? How could it ever live up?

    The surrounding neighborhood isn't much to look at, but Los Charros itself sits like a bastion of warmth in an empty strip mall parking lot. The orange building, covered with bright blue awnings, seems quaint. I was hoping for something more glamorous to impress our guests from La La Land, but cozy would do.

    We walked inside and I was relieved to smell authentic Mexican spices simmering away – chili peppers, cilantro, onion and tangy tomato. The room was decorated with a hodgepodge of still-life paintings and knickknacks. The hostess greeted us with a huge smile and pleasantly showed us to a table the size of Texas. We sat staring at each other over the vast divide, looking jaundiced because of the harsh fluorescent lighting. (The décor looked a little dingy, too.) Our server was as friendly as the hostess, and she dropped off a basket of chips and salsa and took our drink order. I grabbed a freshly fried tortilla chip, dunked it in cilantro-rich liquid salsa, and turned my attention to the enormous menu.

    A half-hour later our table was a jumble of enchiladas, tacos, burritos and rice dishes. The enchiladas were hit and miss – the bean variety ($1.75) lacked an assertive seasoning, and the cheese one ($1.75) was surprisingly dull, even with the ineluctable fat dripping from the end. The best were the house enchiladas ($7.99), a full plate loaded with chicken-stuffed corn tortillas, topped with melted cheese; the savory sauce hidden in the tortilla brought out the flavor of the fresh chicken, although the meat tended to be tough.

    Two disappointing dishes were the greasy chiles rellenos ($7.99), which were on the overcooked side and had not been fully purged of their bitter seeds. And the queso fundido ($5.50) was standard, but didn't have the usual bite needed to cut through the cheese.

    Skip the hard tacos ($1.75), which mostly tasted like cumin-laced Beefaroni in a stale shell. The soft tacos, however, are stunning in their ability to please. The tacos de carne asada ($7.50) were a trio of pliable corn tortillas filled with piquant marinated steak complemented by homemade tomatillo sauce. The carnitas soft taco ($2) was equally as satisfying, with each morsel of braised pork both tender yet crispy.

    On the upside, anything that isn't pleasing at Los Charros can be covered in spicy guacamole ($2.75). Theirs was some of the best I've had, balancing the creaminess of ripened avocado with lime and salt and a peck of intense herbs.

    For dessert, skip the medicinal-tasting churros ($3.75), and instead order the billowy sopapillas ($3.50), a fried flour concoction drizzled with honey and dusted in cinnamon.

    There is authenticity at Los Charros, but most of the dishes seem to lack something. Perhaps what it needed was the regular cook, since we later found out that he was out of town visiting family in Mexico. I asked my Californian friend what he thought.

    "It ain't California," he mused. But we knew that.

    There are far more nuances to Mexican cuisine than many people realize. Here in Central Florida, in particular, we're so removed from the border that the term "Mexican food" generally means basic chimichangas, burritos, tacos and enchiladas.

    You'll find all of those fine standards at Margarita's Grill, a new arrival at Chickasaw Trail and Lake Underhill Road. But you'll also discover a sophisticated Central Mexican spin on the menu, thanks to a trio of partners from Mexico City. We're talking sweet mahi-mahi fillets blackened with crushed chili spices, sizzling sirloin steaks served with corn-dough tamales and a tangy shot of green tomatillo sauce, and much more. It's these kinds of combinations, along with skilled preparation, presentation and service, that make this pleasant restaurant in developing east Orlando a real find.

    You'll find all of those fine standards at Margarita's Grill, a new arrival at Chickasaw Trail and Lake Underhill Road. But you'll also discover a sophisticated Central Mexican spin on the menu, thanks to a trio of partners from Mexico City. We're talking sweet mahi-mahi fillets blackened with crushed chili spices, sizzling sirloin steaks served with corn-dough tamales and a tangy shot of green tomatillo sauce, and much more. It's these kinds of combinations, along with skilled preparation, presentation and service, that make this pleasant restaurant in developing east Orlando a real find.

    On two lunch visits, we sampled a bit of everything. One favorite was sopa tortilla ($2.50), a bright-red chicken-tomato soup served almost scalding hot, which played up its spicy flavors to the hilt. Taken one sip at a time, the broth revealed an intriguing tapestry of spices that teased the nostrils as well as the taste buds. It was swimming with ribbons of fresh fried tortillas, still crispy, and topped with avocado and melted cheese.

    On two lunch visits, we sampled a bit of everything. One favorite was sopa tortilla ($2.50), a bright-red chicken-tomato soup served almost scalding hot, which played up its spicy flavors to the hilt. Taken one sip at a time, the broth revealed an intriguing tapestry of spices that teased the nostrils as well as the taste buds. It was swimming with ribbons of fresh fried tortillas, still crispy, and topped with avocado and melted cheese.

    Even something as standard as nachos ($5.95) took on superior tones. Delicately pale tortilla chips were layered with strategically placed pockets of shredded beef, melted cheese, sour cream and assorted peppers. It was lovely and inviting.

    Even something as standard as nachos ($5.95) took on superior tones. Delicately pale tortilla chips were layered with strategically placed pockets of shredded beef, melted cheese, sour cream and assorted peppers. It was lovely and inviting.

    Mole poblano ($8.50) made a vivid impression, featuring half of a chicken simmered in a seductive combination of 20 Mexican spices, including the defining chocolate. This deep, dark, sweet sauce was simply outstanding, dusted with a trail of sesame seeds.

    We also gave the flautas ($6.50) a whirl and found everything in order. Crunchy little taco tubes were rolled up with spicy minced beef and shredded chicken, for a sweet and smoky taste anchored by scoops of guacamole, refried beans and spicy rice.

    For dessert, crepas con cajeta ($2.95) featured spongy pancakes drenched in caramel sauce, topped with almonds and vanilla-bean ice cream. And someone here definitely knows how to brew a satisfying cup of traditional Mexican coffee ($1.25), zipped up with cinnamon and brown sugar -- almost dessert in itself.

    There's only so much you can do with beans, cheese, rice and a tortilla. It might be called by different names -- burrito, taco, fajita -- but unless the layers are put together well and the ingredients taste distinctly fresh, it's all pretty much beans, cheese and rice.

    Seven years ago Atlanta businessman Martin Sprock opened the first location of what would become the 140-store Planet Smoothie chain. Moe's Southwest Grill, on the ever-expanding food corridor of Sand Lake Road, is Orlando's first taste of Sprock's latest endeavor, serving freshly made tortilla-wrapped ingredients with unusual names. The chain already has spread from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Mississippi and North Carolina. "No freezer, no microwave" is a boast the restaurant makes, and it claims to prepare everything from scratch.

    Seven years ago Atlanta businessman Martin Sprock opened the first location of what would become the 140-store Planet Smoothie chain. Moe's Southwest Grill, on the ever-expanding food corridor of Sand Lake Road, is Orlando's first taste of Sprock's latest endeavor, serving freshly made tortilla-wrapped ingredients with unusual names. The chain already has spread from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Mississippi and North Carolina. "No freezer, no microwave" is a boast the restaurant makes, and it claims to prepare everything from scratch.

    Paintings o f people such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon look down on you while you eat, complete with sayings like "Give Beans a Chance." There's sort of a Subway sandwich-shop approach to the meals. Once ordered, food is built in front of customers, with choices of add-ons like hot salsa, olives and fresh cilantro. Sounds good -- better, actually, than the finished product. There's not much about the fillings, including the meats (chicken, steak) and tofu (a pleasant surprise), that make them stand out. A sprinkling of cold cheese on top of cold beans isn't terribly exciting, no matter how clever the names.

    Paintings o f people such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon look down on you while you eat, complete with sayings like "Give Beans a Chance." There's sort of a Subway sandwich-shop approach to the meals. Once ordered, food is built in front of customers, with choices of add-ons like hot salsa, olives and fresh cilantro. Sounds good -- better, actually, than the finished product. There's not much about the fillings, including the meats (chicken, steak) and tofu (a pleasant surprise), that make them stand out. A sprinkling of cold cheese on top of cold beans isn't terribly exciting, no matter how clever the names.

    Most of Moe's items are named after TV or movie characters. "Art Vandalay" ($4.69), a vegetarian mix of rice, beans, cheese, salsa and guacamole, is from "Seinfeld." The "Pinky Tuscadero" salad ($4.99) is a throwback to "Happy Days," while the "Sherman Klump" ($2.99), a cheese and salsa quesadilla, reminded Sprock of "The Nutty Professor."

    Most of Moe's items are named after TV or movie characters. "Art Vandalay" ($4.69), a vegetarian mix of rice, beans, cheese, salsa and guacamole, is from "Seinfeld." The "Pinky Tuscadero" salad ($4.99) is a throwback to "Happy Days," while the "Sherman Klump" ($2.99), a cheese and salsa quesadilla, reminded Sprock of "The Nutty Professor."

    Quesadillas are actually the best thing on the menu; a quick toss on a hot grill makes the ingredients come together inside the now-crunchy shell.

    Quesadillas are actually the best thing on the menu; a quick toss on a hot grill makes the ingredients come together inside the now-crunchy shell.

    By definition, fajitas ($6.99 to $7.99) include grilled onions and peppers, but not at Moe's: If you don't order them (for an extra 80 cents), all you get is steamed tortillas and a dish of meat, lettuce, salsa and cheese. Moe's breaks away from the salsa-bar trend and offers only two; a green tomatillo and a hot sauce that looked so watery I was afraid to touch it.

    By definition, fajitas ($6.99 to $7.99) include grilled onions and peppers, but not at Moe's: If you don't order them (for an extra 80 cents), all you get is steamed tortillas and a dish of meat, lettuce, salsa and cheese. Moe's breaks away from the salsa-bar trend and offers only two; a green tomatillo and a hot sauce that looked so watery I was afraid to touch it.

    It's up to the frozen margaritas to make most of the menu items more exciting.

Calendar

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

© 2019 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation