Ryan Manning knows his way around Mexico. Even better, he knows his way around Mexico’s taco regions.
Some who have jumped on the taco-slinger bandwagon would have you believe that a taco is a taco is a taco. But Manning, who has lived and worked in Mexico as a chef with Ritz-Carlton, will tell you that each region has its own style, with distinguishing salsas, moles and meats.
I came back from a recent visit to Mexico where I had one outstanding taco and the next day visited Manning’s new Milk District restaurant, MX Taco, where I had seven. The restaurant was still in soft opening mode, but Manning offered me a tour of the menu — and of the Mexican regions represented on it.
A favorite was one of the first I sampled, the Cochinita Pibil, pulled pork seasoned with bitter orange and dotted with pretty pink pickled onions. In the Yucatán, cochinita pibil involves burying a pig in a stone fire pit and cook it a very long time after it has been marinated in achiote seeds, bitter orange juice and other spices. I don’t think Manning has a pit in the back of his small storefront eatery, but the results are the same.
It’s interesting to have sampled the bitter orange pulled pork next to the Carnitas, the more prevalent confit style pulled pork from the Michoacán state, this one every bit as moist but served more simply with chopped raw onions and a sprinkle of cilantro.
Another Yucatecan offering that I liked very much was the Bistec con Zikil Pak. It featured steak as the main ingredient but it was elevated above the ordinary by a sauce made of pumpkin seeds. I could have made a meal of the sauce with some tortilla chips.
Compare that taco to the Sonoran Bistec en Salsa Roja, which had braised steak with a pepper sauce and squirts of creamy avocado.
Mole heads will appreciate the Mole Poblano from Puebla. The dark and moody sauce infused the shredded meat, which was dressed with a crema and dotted with toasted sesame seeds.
Next door, in Oaxaca, is a vegetarian option, Camote con Mole, with sweet potato, mushrooms, beans and queso cotija.
Back in Yucatán, Shrimp Tikin-Xic is a seafood offering with some of the terrific bitter orange from the pulled pork taco
Besides guacamole and chips, an antojito worthy of your attention is Manning’s Esquites, the Mexican street corn, here served in a creamier version.
And I have to say I was surprised by the Helado de Aguacate, an avocado ice cream with shaved chocolate and pumpkin seeds. It was as delicious as it was refreshing.
MX Taco also offers an array of Aguas Frescas, including watermelon, hibiscus, pineapple and cinnamon rice milk. Manning also produces and bottles three hot sauces, but really the tacos are so perfectly seasoned and sauced that I saw no need to enhance.
MX Taco took over a small space in a compact strip mall that was previously occupied by Arepas & More. There is a modicum of seating, though Manning has plans to add a patio on the side of the building. It is a quick-serve operation, so order and pay at the counter then wait for the food to arrive.
The Milk District is emerging as one of the city’s destinations for good food, if not full service dining then for good, quick bites. MX Taco is a welcome addition not only to the district but to the overall food culture of Central Florida.
MX Taco is at 207 N. Bumby Ave, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-730-5241.