Coco Cucina

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Coco cucina wall

Is there any other restaurant space in Orlando whose short life has been so fraught with failure as the one mid-block in the Sanctuary condominium building?

It started out, in 2007, as Fifi’s Patisserie, then changed to Sanctuary Diner. Nick’s Italian Kitchen came next, in 2011 and closed in 2013. For three years after Nick’s closed, three concepts were proposed, including a champagne lounge to be called Pagne. None ever opened. Then Gaviota, a fine dining Peruvian restaurant, decided to give it a go in late 2016, and it lasted more than a year.

So we’ve had French, American, Italian and Peruvian in just 12 years.

Now comes Mexican in the form of Coco Cucina, a project from the owners of Oudom Thai, the restaurant next door. (That space has had its own multiple tenants.)

Coco Cucina is apparently striving for authenticity, and it certainly has an ambitious menu. You have to give them props for putting such things as braised beef tongue, huitlacoche (corn smut)quesadilla and cactus worms tacos on the menu. Those are tough sells even to people who live in Mexico, tasty as they may be.

Frontera Cocina by (and with) Rick Bayless

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Frontera interior

I was surprised when I was told that Frontera Cocina, the Disney Springs restaurant from chef Rick Bayless was celebrating its third year.

I was even more surprised that the man who told me was Bayless himself.

It seemed like no more than a year ago that Bayless, the well-known Chicago based chef and restaurateur, was on hand to open the Disney Springs venue. I figured that would be the last we’d see of him in Central Florida. Certain celebrity chefs are known for putting their names on restaurants and then practically forgetting where they are.

But Bayless, I’m told, is at Frontera Cocina at least once a quarter, usually to help roll out a seasonal menu. That was why he was there talking to me last month as part of a media preview of the winter menu.

Reyes Mezcaleria

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Reyes interior

A major change in a restaurant, especially a popular, well-reviewed one, is reason for a revisit, even if that restaurant is relatively new. Reyes Mezcaleria is relatively new — it was the winner of our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants as Best New Restaurant of 2017. But despite its short life, Reyes recently underwent one of those major changes that warrant a rereview, replacing its opening chef, Austin Boyd, with Wendy Lopez.

I returned with little skepticism because Lopez is a known quantity, taking the Reyes position after leading the kitchen at Tapa Toros. (Francisco Galeano is now in charge of Tapa Toros; we’ll look in on how he’s doing soon.)

Lopez’s changes to the menu have been subtle but they arise out of her Mexican heritage. I’ve never been one to suggest that cuisines of a nation or region can only be cooked by people of the same heritage. Nor does having a particular ethnic background guarantee that a cook will turn out authentic recreations of his or her homeland’s traditional dishes.

Bugambilias

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Bugambilias birria

Bugambilias isn't the sort of place you'd just wander into, not unless you live in the vicinity of Lancaster Road between Orange Avenue and South Orange Blossom Trail. If you do live in the area, you know there are myriad Mexican restaurants, many as authentic as you're likely to find in the area, to choose from. Bugambilas would be a good choice.

Though it isn't a guarantee of authenticity, it's a pretty good indication of it when one has to ask if a menu is available in English. (One was.)

While I was still trying to navigate through the Spanish version, I was drawn to the Pozole, a favorite of mine. But when I failed to notice it was available only on Saturdays and Sundays, I figured I'd better switch to my first language. (Not that there's a second one, mind you.)

Instead I chose the Birria, shown at top, which is available todos los dias. Birria is basically a beef stew and is a traditional dish from the Jalisco region, which is home to Guadalajara. This isn't a stew like American versions -- there are no carrots or potatoes or peas. But on the other hand, it isn't made with goat or mutton, as it might be in Mexico.

Tacos el Rancho: Part of Central Florida's Taco Takeover

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Taco Ranchos wide

The tacofication of Central Florida continues.

No food trend has held quite as strongly as tacos. Not that tacos are new. The taco as it's known from its roots predates the arrival to Mexico of Spaniards, who apparently were able to just walk in because there was no wall to keep them out. And some of those early tacos were just as creative in their fillings as some of our tonier craft tacomongers, with such things as whole, small fish in a tortilla wrapper.

There are few rules involving tacos. As long as you have a tortilla as your base, what you put inside is up to you. Corn tortillas are a bit more traditional, but you're more likely to find white flour tortillas in today's taquerias. I am thankful that few have taken to using the godawful hard-shell variety. Those have no place in the discussion.

Just look at the proliferation of taco vendors in the recent past. We've seen places like Black Rooster, Hunger Street, Tin & Tacos, bartaco, Four Rebels, Rocco's Tacos, not to mention a fleet of food trucks that specialize in tacos.

Recently, Kasa, a restaurant in downtown Orlando, rebranded itself as Chela Tequila & Tacos. Tin & Tacos announced that it will open a second location in SoDo, not far from where Gringo's Locos just opened a new restaurant. Garp & Fuss, which opened recently in the former Bistro on Park Avenue space in Winter Park, posted a taco special on its Facebook page recently.

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

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

 

 

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

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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.