El Pueblo

Written by Scott Joseph on .

El Pueblo food

Only one other customer came into El Pueblo during my dinnertime visit, and he wasn't even there to eat. And he couldn't have been sorrier.

From what I could gather from his apologia to the young woman taking the orders and to the cook who also acknowledged his arrival, he had been outvoted by his family regarding dinner. He had been sent for takeout, but his family chose pizza as the food to be taken. So, apparently, he placed the order at a nearby pizzeria then popped in to El Pueblo for a beer while he waited. And maybe a side order of the Mexican rice to go.

But what he really wanted was No. 8 on the menu. "I don't even know what it's called," he said, without getting an answer. He just knew it by number.

For the record, the No. 8 is Pechuga de Pollo Asada, or grilled chicken breast with beans and salad, and of course the rice that is better than pizza. But you can just call it No. 8.

Reyes Mescaleria

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Reyes exterior

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.

Mesa 21

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Mesa21 interior

Most people will likely gravitate directly to the patio at Mesa 21. They might not even enter through the front door, instead walking through the short gateway just behind the valet stand (more on the valet later).

The waterfront seating with a view of Lake Ivanhoe has long been the draw of this space, ever since the building was erected, circa 2004, and Gargi’s moved into it from its closet-sized restaurant across the street. Sitting on the patio at sunset helped one overlook shortfalls with food and service.

Gargi’s is gone, the owners retired, and Mesa 21 has moved in. While some now grouse that the view across the lake is marred by the ongoing construction related to the I-4 updates — what’s it been now, 15 years? — they probably assume the patio is the place to be.

Hunger Street Tacos

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Hunger Street sign

There’s brisket at 2103 W. Fairbanks Ave. again.

That Winter Park address, you’ll recall, was the site of the first 4 Rivers Smokehouse, before it outgrew the space and moved and multiplied.

In January of 2013, B&B Junction, a burger concept, moved in, and while it had its share of loyal fans, they apparently weren’t enough to sustain it. B&B closed late last year. Now it’s the home of Hunger Street Tacos.

Speaking of loyal fans, something else has returned to the corner of Fairbanks and Formosa Avenues: parking problems and teed off neighbors. As was the case when 4 Rivers had lines out the door, Hunger Street Tacos, too, is causing taco fanatics to cruise the surrounding blocks in search of parking, much to the consternation of the neighbors. (Printed signs on telephone poles and the windows of the restaurant admonish customers to not park in the surrounding streets, but what else are they to do?)

Los Generales

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Generales chips 1

The little restaurant space on Curry Ford that La Fiesta vacated recently didn’t stay empty very long. And it was replaced by another Mexican restaurant, to boot.

Los Generales moved in to 2901 Curry Ford Road after La Fiesta moved to a bigger space across the street. The name might sound familiar — it did to me — because there was a Los Generales in south Orlando that we visited several years ago (it was even one of the featured options during a Magical Dining Month), which is now closed.

But the name is merely coincidence.

Taco Twist

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Tacotwist exterior

Taco Twist is a small restaurant on West Colonial Drive that specializes in tacos. With a twist.

The twist is that in addition to your standard run of the mill Mexican variety, TT also offers a Korean version.

Of course Korean tacos aren’t that twisted themselves. One of the area’s older food trucks, Korean BBQ Taco Box, made them mainstream for Central Floridians.

At Taco Twist the tacos are available as an either/or option. You can have them in either the Mexican version or the Korean version.

I chose both.

Colibri Mexican Cuisine Sodo

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Colibri interior

I never think about Colibri when I think about Baldwin Park restaurants. Part of the reason is that the Mexican restaurant sits at the end of New Broad Street, apart from most of the other businesses. But it also doesn’t come to mind because its cuisine and the general dining experience are so forgettable.

Unfortunately, Colibri’s new location, in Orlando’s Sodo district, is just as unmemorable. It’s a lovely space — it took over the Egg & I and made it a bright, colorful and comfortable place. But the food just doesn’t excite; it’s remarkably bland. And service on a recent visit was inexplicably slow, even in a mostly empty restaurant.

And what Mexican restaurant worth its salsa runs out of pork before 7 p.m.?

But that sort of thing happens. A better question: Why would anyone put ceviche on top of a tostada?

La Fiesta Mexican Grill

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Lafiesta sign

For those who said they’d never cross the street to eat at La Fiesta Grill, there’s news: it has crossed the street so you don’t have to.

It took a little over a year for the move to occur, but the Mexican restaurant has finally taken over the space that previously was Southern Moon (Holy Smoke barbecue before that and an Eckerd Drug Store in the beginning). The announcement was first made when Ocean Sun Brewing announced it would begin making beer in an adjoining space. Ocean Sun opened in March.

Taste of Yucatan

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Yucatan counter

I was surprised when my GPS led me to 1375 S. Semoran Blvd. and the Taste of Yucatan. I was pretty sure I’d paid my last visit to this address years ago. And I’d been here many times before.

Over the years, the free-standing building, which began its life as a Captain D’s seafood restaurant, has had many tenants. After the captain ran this particular franchise aground, it became Thai Chili, which in the late ‘90s was part of a then-surging Thai scene.

Then Two Fat Chefs moved in. That was the name of the restaurant, please don’t accuse me of fat shaming. The name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a popular BBC program at the time called “Two Fat Ladies,” but the corpulent cooks moniker gave no clue to the restaurant’s cuisine, which was Scandinavian.

That was followed by a string of Mexican restaurants: Las Carretas, Casa Rene and Casa Mexico.

Then it became a Church’s Chicken fast fooder. That’s when I figured I’d walked through that door for the last time. Whoever heard of a Church’s Chicken franchise folding?

I don’t know if it actually went out of business or the franchisee just decided to move on. (The property is still listed as owned by a Church’s LLC.) But the conversion has been completed and the kitchen is once again putting out Mexican food.

Frontera Cocina

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Frontera interior

 

There isn’t anything remotely Mexican about the decor and design of Frontera Cocina, the new restaurant from Rick Bayless that has opened at Disney Springs. And that just may be the point.

Bayless, the Chicagoland chef who has won no fewer than six James Beard Awards, says his style of Mexican food has “bright flavors” and isn’t heavy because they don’t do much frying. His menu focuses on the Central and Southern regions of Mexico, staying far away from the influences of Tex-Mex or Ameri-Mex, or, heaven forbid, Flori-Mex.

That brightness shows in the decor, as well. More modern, with bright splashes of color — orange, blue and green — walls of windows and shelves of tequilas. No artificially cracked plaster walls showing bare bricks beneath and nary a sombrero hanging on a hook. That alone is refreshing.

Bayless expanded his culinary empire — or frontier, to use one of the translations of the word — from his wildly popular Frontera Grill, which, like all of his other restaurants, is in or around Chicago. (The flagship restaurant is on Clark Street.)

Besides being the first Bayless restaurant in Florida, the Disney Springs location is the first, and only, Frontera Cocina. That may be, in part, because the restaurant is a partnership with the San Angel Group, which also operates the restaurants at the Mexico pavilion in Epcot.