I approached Chico’s Dirty Tacos and Tequila cautiously, and not just because of the name. (But seriously, Dirty Tacos?) No, my caution stemmed from the choice of location for this small eatery/bar, which is nestled among other such establishments that pay more attention to the /bar part. And the particular space has never had anything better than average in terms of food, and usually it was below average. This was the longtime home of the former Crooked Bayou (seriously, Crooked?) and more recently -- hope you didn’t blink -- a downtown outpost of Smokehouse Barbecue.
But I was encouraged after I saw an advance copy of Chico’s menu. Stewed tripe and beef tongue among the usual suspects of enchiladas, nachos and quesadillas found on other Tex-Mexers that mistakenly claim to be true Mexican.
And finally I had to question the sanity of a business, especially one with a Mexican bent, that would choose Cinco de Mayo for its grand opening. Bad idea.
But beyond the clusterfuss of that night, Chico’s is doing a better than decent job with its food. Service was serviceable -- sometimes too eager to clear plates before my guest and I were finished. But overall, Chico’s is on the right path to being a fun place to get a casual bite to eat downtown, whether for a lunch or a late night snack after hitting the clubs (the owner of Chico’s, Angel Cortes, also owns the nightclub Vain next door).
I liked the tongue tacos but preferred the roast pork (it doesn’t sass back). The dish called mi corazon featured stewed tripe and short rib meat shredded and blended together so that it was almost impossible to detect any of the tripe’s characteristic texture. But the taste was there, and combined with the juicy short rib it was delicious. It was served stacked on top of rice and beans with pickled cabbage and fresh cilantro.
I didn’t care for the tamales, listed on the menu as Chico’s “O-Face” Tamales, though there is no explanation as to why. I assume it means open face, but aren’t most tamales open face? Then again, aren’t most tamales served unfried? It seemed that this one had been finished with a pan frying that may have lead to its dryness. For the record, my guest, who is hispanic, liked it very much. I’ll agree that the mango salsa and fresh avocado were very good.
The main part of Chico’s is more cantina-like, with a bar that claims 244 tequila shots. The restaurant has also taken over the underutilized atrium, painting it with bright colors, putting in high and low tables and decorating the high, barreled space with clotheslines strung with undies and bras, presumably from Vain, and projecting cartoons on the ceiling.
Chico’s comes with a legend, a fabricated story the likes of which are usually seen in theme park restaurants and are designed to keep children occupied. Here it just seems lame. Perhaps they have a plan for it that hasn’t made itself clear yet. On the website was a “contest” that claimed Chico -- who apparently is on the lam, presumably from the health inspectors who want to question him about the dirtiness of his tacos -- had found the best lobster bisque in town. All I had to do type in the name of that restaurant and I would win something. It was fairly easy -- Chico’s doesn’t have lobster bisque on its menu, but the soup is on another restaurant that opened recently in which Cortes has an interest. I won a coupon for a free shot of tequila or 10 percent off my bill. Of course, this was after I had visited.
But hey, I just might be back.
Chico’s Dirty Taco’s and Tequila is at 50 E. Central Blvd., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Click this link to download the menu . Prices are pretty reasonable, with most entrees under $10. Click here to go to chicosdirtytacos.com. The phone number is 407-422-6299.