The first mall food experience I remember is slurping down an Orange Julius after buying my very first pair of pegged, zipper-on-the-bottom jeans. My obsession with the jeans didn't last, but I can't say the same for the fabulous string of selections I discovered thereafter at the mall: bubblegum-flavored popcorn, See's gourmet lollipops, bourbon chicken … the list goes on.
Nothing, however, compares to what's cooking in a corner of the Florida Mall: Salsa Taqueria and Tequila bar. Here, I sipped my very first glass of amaretto-infused tequila for dessert, which blew the pineapple Julius away for best beverage at the mall.
But let's rewind. Before I even entered the colorful and cavernous restaurant, I sampled the chips the hostess was giving out at the entrance. Hungry shoppers were lured in by the dozens, and I could see why. As the homemade chips delicately crackled between my teeth, I knew I had to have more a lot more. In fact, I didn't stop until three bowls of guacamole ($3.95) were polished off. It was creamier than usual and tingled the tongue with fresh lime, serrano pepper and hints of cilantro.
Queso fundido ($6.50), a rich blend of manchego, asadero and Monterey Jack cheeses, was swaddled in fresh handmade flour tortillas and was proof that bread and cheese is a universally adored pairing. Tortilla soup ($4.95), creamy from the blending of corn tortillas with hearty chicken broth, was bright and refreshing. Among the flavors to shine in this soup were guajillo chiles, a common dried pepper in Mexico, but a difficult-to-find ingredient in American markets.
The taco sampler ($10.95) was an array of flavor and texture. If one were eating a spectrum of color, this is what it would taste like; it started with a light citrus-marinated chicken, then moved through marinated beef, roasted pork with pineapple and sweet onions, grouper with fruity pico de gallo and slaw, roasted mushrooms, and poblano peppers with queso fresco. I was overwhelmed with the mixture of surprise as the tastes ran from sweet and fruity to fragrantly spicy to pleasantly mellow to creamy and back again.
One of the best things about Salsa Taqueria is the just representation of capsicums on the menu. Look no further to expand your knowledge of peppers: bell, smoked jalape'o, chipotle, serrano, guajillo and poblano, to name a few.
The Mexico City enchiladas ($11.95) are a mix-and-match of choices: There's chicken, beef or shrimp, but also be prepared to choose from yellow, poblano, guajillo or tomatillo mole, all spectacularly delicious. My favorite, the guajillo, seemed heavy at first, but woke the mouth with a little zing and a lot of tang after the first bite. Among three sandwich selections, we tried "torta Havana" ($8.50), thinly sliced pork loin, ham and avocado on pleasantly light, toasted bread. The addition of chipotle sauce made the flavors come alive.
For dessert we ordered the tres leches ($3.95), of course. Tres leches is one of my current kitchen experiments, and I made one the other day that looked like a deflated balloon. Luckily, Salsa Taqueria's fared better, but was more like a tiramisu drenched in fruit puree than the silky, milk-soaked genoise that captures my recent affections. (Note: I invite … no, beg those with good tres leches recipes to please step forward and share.) So, after our delicious meal, I was ready to go try on some jeans no zippers on the bottom this time.