- Published on Tuesday, 20 November 2012 10:32
- Written by Scott Joseph
It took four visits to Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar before I was able to sample the food. The first time I didn’t even make it out of my car. The restaurant had announced its grand opening -- and the promise of free food -- and the Sand Lake Road complex where Rocco’s is located was so jam-packed that there weren’t any parking space even at the neighboring strip mall. I don’t need free food that badly.
I tried to visit two other times, in the evening, and although I was able to park the car I was not able to get a seat in the restaurant or even at the bar -- not, that is, without waiting an hour or more. Sorry, but I just don’t wait that long to eat in a restaurant, not when there are other opportunities nearby. (Both of those times I stopped in at Timpano next door -- I’ll have an updated review of that place for you soon.)
So I finally arranged to meet a friend at Rocco’s for lunch. We were seated immediately, at a lovely table on the patio overlooking the lake (not the prettiest lake in Orlando, but it’s a lake). A lunch visit, I realized, wasn’t going to give me the nightclubby experience found in the evening, but I had seen that on the visits when I couldn’t get a seat. (Although I did not experience the site of owner Rocco Mangel walking atop the bar with a bottle of tequila and pouring said alcohol directly down the gullets of willing patrons, as he is said to do regularly at his South Florida locations. But I don’t feel like I missed anything.)
A large restaurant packed with partying types does not bode well for the quality of the food, does it? You’d expect, as I did, that the kitchen would exist only to offer spongeable edibles that would absorb the tequila and other alcohols and, one hopes, allay some of the effects.
But the food I tasted was actually quite good, and I left a bit more impressed.
One of the more popular items at Rocco’s Tacos is the tableside guacamole. There are staffers, it seems, who do nothing but wheel their carts from table to table and repeat the ritual of assembling guacamoles (guacamoli?) upon request. (The young fellow who made the dip for my friend and me referred to himself as a guacmaster. I don’t know if that’s the official term, but I think it should be.)
I’ve had tableside guacamole before -- it’s a pretty popular thing right now -- but this is the first time I’ve been asked how hot I wanted it. I’ve never considered guacamole to be a foodstuff with a heat scale attached. But he said our answer would determine how much chopped jalapeno he would add to the avocados, tomatoes and onions. I told him medium, and it came out pretty spicy. Otherwise, it was sufficiently chunky, and delicious with the tortilla chips. (I would recommend you order it mild; you can always add more heat if you desire, not so easy to take it out.)
My friend had the spinach salad with honey lime chicken, an entree-size salad (for $12 it better be) with bacon, green apple slices and a red chile vinaigrette that was not spicy at all. There was little evidence of the Cabrales cheese promised in the menu description, but otherwise the spinach was fresh and the salad tasty.
We also shared an array of tacos, after all, the place isn’t called Rocco’s Ensaladas. Tacos come by default with soft flour tortillas, but hard shells and soft corn are also available. We chose the corn tortillas. I like the chorizo the best because the sausage added just the right amount of greasiness that a proper taco should have. Roasted pork was also good, especially with the fresh cilantro and pico de gallo on top. Tacos are $2.95 to $4.25 each, or you can get a platter of two tacos and a mixed salad for $10 to $12.50.
I was just as impressed -- and surprised -- with the staff as I was with the food. Everyone I had contact with during my lunch was friendly and showed good training skills. All I can say about the nighttime staff is that the people at the front desk have the bored “take it or leave it” attitude of a place too popular. The dining room is large and sprawling. There are three bars -- grab a spot at the back one overlooking the lake.
I was wary when I first heard that Rocco’s Tacos would take over the former Samba Room on Restaurant Row; even more so after I visited the RT in Ft. Lauderdale, on Las Olas Boulevard. But to its credit, it puts as much emphasis on the quality of its food and service as it does on its quest to be a fun place.
Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar is at 7468 Sand Lake Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch, dinner and late night dining daily. Here is a link to roccostacos.com (loud music alert!). The phone number is 407-226-0050.
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