Here’s one of the things I like about Cocina 214 -- and there are several things to like here: it doesn’t make apologies for being a Tex-Mex restaurant. Yes, it claims on its website that it is “a contemporary Mexican kitchen,” but in defining that term it explains the food is “creative, gourmet interpretations of traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex favorites.” The first thing I look for when I visit a restaurant that claims to be authentic Mexican is the number of non-Mexican dishes, such as fajitas, nachos and the like.
You’ll find such items on the menu here, too, but Cocina 214 doesn’t try to pass them off as something you’d find south of the border. In fact, it places them squarely within Texas. The 214 in the restaurant’s name is not its address on Welbourne Avenue -- that’s 151. Instead, it denotes the area code for Dallas. Dallas isn’t the city that comes to mind when I think of Tex-Mex -- San Antonio, Austin, even Amarillo seem more likely -- but there you go.
Another thing I like about Cocina 214 is the atmosphere. It occupies the former Apenberry’s space and is expansive and open, allowing one to see most of the dining room yet providing enough space for intimacy. The floor is an attractive stained concrete with a root beer sort of mottle, with some areas covered with a complementary colored carpet. The main dining area sits beneath a multi-leveled dropped ceiling. Seating is at freestanding tables and chairs or banquets, either the straight line booth along the wall or the curving group in the center of the room. There also is a food bar, with a view into the kitchen, and a spacious covered patio, where doggies are welcome. A bar and lounge sit a half level above the dining room and has a separate entrance.
And I also like the food that I sampled on my two visits. Everything had a freshness factor that stood out, and flavors were brilliant and spicing was forward. I especially appreciated the bit of heat in the salsa served with the basket of chips.
The only thing I tried that disappointed was the xochitl soup, pronounced SOH-chee-til, although the menu suggests sochil (the word soup is pronounced in the conventional manner). Xochitl means flower, but this is a chicken broth soup with avocado, pico de gallo and cheese. However, the broth had a fatty mouthfeel that tasted more beefy than chickenlike. That greasiness detracted from any positive aspects of the soup.
But that was the only negative among the foods I sampled. I especially liked the huevos rancheros Ihad on a brunch visit. Two perfectly fried eggs were served on compact corn tortillas and topped with a bit of melted queso blanco and red rancheros sauce. The menu said guacamole, but I don’t recall that being part of the plate. It wasn’t missed, either. The long plate -- which glided across the wooden table every time I tried to cut something; I finally had to place a napkin under it -- was bookended with red Mexican rice and black beans.
On an evening visit I had the carnitas tacos, which featured braised pork, a bit of orange zest and candied onions distributed among three corn tortillas. A bit of fresh cilantro helped liven it up.
My friend had the carne asada, a marinated skirt steak, perfectly grilled to medium-rare, served over sauteed vegetables and accompanied by a tangy chimichurri salsa. Delicious. And at $19, one of the most expensive items on the menu. My carnitas and huevos rancheros were $10 each. It’s a very reasonably priced menu.
Service was friendly but lacked focus and polish; it didn’t seem as though everyone was working from the same training manual (assuming there is one).
Overall, though, Cocina 214 is a good restaurant, and I like adding the Tex-Mex flavor to the Park Avenue lineup.
Cocina 214 is at 151 Welbourne Ave. E., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Click here to download the menu . This link will take you to the Cocina 214 website. The phone number is 407-790-7997.