That space that for many years was Citrus Restaurant, long before the neighborhood it sits in became known as the North Quarter District, has been transformed into Reyes Mezcaleria, a Mexican restaurant that brings street food inside to a fun and comfortable atmosphere.
You’d be hard pressed to find any of the old Citrus in the place. As reimagined by Sue Chin, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Jason, the space is more open, especially the bar area, thanks in part to a clever move of the restaurant’s main entrance, which also netted some additional patio seating.
String lights give the impression of outdoor dining inside, and small touches like faded frond stencils on worn and cracked terrazzo give an impression that the building is older than it is. I knew I would like the decor because Chin also designed the likable Osprey Tavern’s interior.
Like that Baldwin Park restaurant and the couple’s Seito Sushi just across the street across, Reyes’s chef is Austin Boyd. It’s difficult enough for one person to oversee the culinary programs of three restaurants. To do so across genres is even more challenging. But Boyd succeeds.
The menu features a nice array of those street foods I mentioned, with such platos típicos as sopas, tamales and your requisite array of tacos, with most items reasonably under $10. Then it jumps to the section labeled Platos Fuertes (strong plates?) where a Carne Asada demands $28, and that’s not taking into account the “serves two” entrees of Veracruz Snapper ($36) and Parillada Mixta ($45).
But you can certainly dine nicely for less. I enjoyed the Street Tamale with its pork wrapped inside a jacket of masa with roasted corn salsa.
And the Pork Belly Adobo Taco with roasted tomatoes, smoky chipotle salsa, crumbles of fresh cheese and brightly flavored cilantro, was also satisfying.
I don’t think I’d order the Guacamole again. The guac itself was OK, though not worth $9, but the house-made chips had an oddly sweet taste.
From the list of strong plates I had the Duck Emmoladas, which had confit duck meat, as tender and juicy as you would expect, it a well-executed mole negro with pumpkin seeds dotted about. The mole was deep and multilayered and would have made just about anything taste better.
Service needs attention. The staff seems largely untrained, and many appeared to have no idea of what they were doing and what they were serving.
If you’ve been paying attention, Mexican restaurants are having a bit of a renaissance in Orlando. Though given the overall quality of traditional Mexican in the area this might be considered a discovery. Mesa 21, within walking distance of Reyes, also opened recently. And Winter Park’s Pepe’s Cantina announced it will open an outpost on Church Street in summer.
This surge figured into the reasoning for Thornton Park’s Mucho to rebrand itself. I don’t think we’re anywhere near the saturation point. There will always be room for good, fresh and even inventive Mexican food.
Reyes Mezcaleria is at 821 N. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily, brunch on Sunday. The phone number is 407-868-9007.