It would seem that the place to be on a Friday night if you live in the area of Chickasaw Trail and Lake Underhill Road is Don Julio’s Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar. At least it seemed that way the Friday evening my companion and I stopped in. The restaurant in the aptly named Rio Pina Plaza was jumping like veritable frijoles saltarines.
It was so crowded that people waiting for tables were standing around on the sidewalk outside the strip plaza storefront. The only seats available, the young woman at the host stand told us, were at either of the bars, the tequila bar in the title or the ceviche bar on the other side of the room.
That suited us just fine because it was the ceviche bar that drew my attention to this particular D. Julio’s over the one in Lake Mary or the other location in Waterford Lakes. That’s because the ceviche bar is under the direction of chef Roberto Treviño, a former contestant on variations of the Iron Chef cooking competitions who previously owned El Buda, the Latin and Asian fusion restaurant in an ill-fated (and well hidden) Church Street Station space.
But even with Treviño’s credentials, his association with the Mexican restaurant is not touted very highly. In fact, I didn’t spot his name anywhere on the multipage menu.
But no matter. I selected the Pulpo a la Mexicana from the ceviche menu, mainly because from my vantage point at the bar I could see the large plate of octopus tentacles the ceviche chefs were gathering from to construct the platters. The bite-sized pieces were tender-firm and had a pleasant citrusy taste. The plate also had pickled onions and a creamy slice of avocado with a package of saltines that went unopened.
For my entree I chose to go with the “pick 2” dinner combination, opting for a ground beef taco and a chicken enchilada. I was surprised that the taco had a crisped tortilla shell, which I didn't much care for. The meat wasn’t particularly flavorful but it was fine after I added some of the salsa that had come with the complimentary chips we were served upon seating. The enchilada was also rather bland, but I liked the refried beans and rice.
My guest’s Enchilada Puerto Vallarta was much better. It consisted three seafood wraps –shrimp, fish and crab – with a creamy béchamel-like sauce, which made the plate a study in white. It was served with its own side plate of rice and beans plus a bit of guacamole and sour cream.
Since it was also a tequila bar, I felt it really was necessary to sample the house Margarita, made with tequila, orange curacao and orange juice, plus, mysteriously, a “secret recipe mix.” I liked the flavors of the drink – and after watching the bartenders work, I can tell you they do a generous pour. But serving it in a Mason-like jar was trite, and I’ve never quite understood why after requesting a salt rim – here affected with blue salt – the glass comes with a straw.
The fellow who served us was congenial, and the food came out at a brisk pace.
The dining area is a large open space, and with a full house it can thrum. But I suppose that’s why so many people enjoy it.
Don Julio’s Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar is at 551 S. Chickasaw Trail, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-930-3735.