Of all the restaurants that have occupied the space at the corner of Washington Street and Hyer Avenue in downtown’s Thornton Park, Felipe Rodriguez Tequila House + Kitchen feels the most permanent.
That may be because for the first time the main dining part of the restaurant has an actual hard roof. Before that it had an elaborate tent-like structure to keep out the elements, and before that it had nothing. The elements were everywhere.
But there’s more to the commitment of a real roof and all the other cosmetic and structural redesigns inside. It shows a dedication to this concept. Even more, the people involved in the restaurant seem to understand that the food needs to be more than an afterthought. On my two visits to the restaurant, I was surprised to find the food as good as it was.
I don’t mean for that to be a backhanded compliment. But let’s face it: Any place in downtown Orlando that calls itself a tequila house isn’t a place you’d expect to spend much time on food. Fortunately, that’s not the case here.
The menu, you’ve surely gleaned by now because you’re smart and astute, is Tex-Mexy. The opening menu that was in effect on my two visits doesn’t wander past the usual tacos and quesadillas. The full menu (still not in operation at the time of publication) doesn’t travel much further, eventually adding burritos, enchiladas and fajitas.
On my first visit, I ordered something I rarely order because it almost always turns out to be a disappointment: nachos. But again, I wasn’t expecting much to begin with so I figured it was a low bar.
But the Nachos Felipe were pretty impressive. The ground beef (you can have chicken if you really want it) was integrated among the corn tortilla chips, not just splotched on top. The other ingredients — the usual black beans, melted queso, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, and shredded lettuce — were ample and just as well distributed.
And the Rodriguez Family Jalapeño Poppers were a surprise, too. The halved chilies were well-filled with a blend of cheddar, feta and cream cheeses and lightly roasted. They had a delightful kick to them.
The Guacamole was chunky, just the way I prefer it, though had a tad too much lime.
My Carnitas Taco had a soft corn tortilla topped with roasted shredded pork, with sweet onions, chopped poblano pepper and pineapple (though it wasn’t called al pastor, thankfully) and sprinkled with fresh cheese crumbles. The meat was sufficiently moist and fatty.
The Carne Asada, too, with grilled skirt steak and chopped onions, was a tasty taco.
If you visit a tequila house you have to have some tequila; it’s a rule. I like mine delivered in a margarita. I recommend you skip the house version and go directly to one of the premiums, you’ll be much happier.
As for Mr. Rodgriguez, there is a note on the menu that refers to him in the third person but also signed by him, for some reason. It says that he grew up on a blue agave farm in Mexico and started making tequila, as one does. And now he’s bringing his tequila to the U.S. (When you go in, don’t bother asking if Rodriguez is there; he’s not.)
But contrived Disneyesque legends aren’t really necessary, not when you’ve got a fun atmosphere and good food to stand on.
Felipe Rodriguez Tequila House + Kitchen is at 900 E. Washington St., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily, including late nights most evenings. The phone number is 407-730-2292.