California Tortilla

Written by Scott Joseph on .

California Tortilla ext

I find the name California Tortilla unmemorable. It's generic. Non descriptive. And the logo for the chain restaurant that opened recently in downtown Orlando isn't very helpful: it's an avocado. Also, the specialty is burritos. Oh, and despite the California designation there don't appear to be any locations in that state.

Then again, there isn't much else about the place that's all that memorable, either. Certainly not the staff, most of whom barely acknowledge a customer's existence.

Cilantro's Taqueria

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cilantros counter

It's Taco Tuesday. And also Fat Tuesday. So I was hoping for some Fat Tacos. Taco Gras, if you will.

So I headed over the the area of town that is still not officially designated the Hourglass District to try out a new place called Cilantro's Taqueria. It's in a small group of storefronts that also holds the oddly named businesses Hair Partners and Ambrose the Printer. The latter always makes me think of a medieval scribe.

Cilantro's is charming. I have no idea what was in this space before, even though I've passed by this corner several times a week for more than 25 years. It might have been a wonderful business, but even without knowing, I'd say Cilantro's is an improvement.

F&D Cantina Lake Mary

Written by Scott Joseph on .

FD Cantina bar

To understate it just a bit, I wasn't all that impressed with F&D Cantina when it opened in mid 2016 in Waterford Lakes. Besides being served food that was at a temperature lower than what could legally be considered warm, the service was lacking and the surroundings offered nothing to enhance the experience.

That location has closed.

But another F&D Cantina has popped up in Lake Mary, not far from F&D Kitchen and Bar, which causes a bit of a problem itself. I arranged to meet an associate at F&D Cantina, but Google Maps sent him to F&D Kitchen, which is not far away physically but is a logistical challenge. Thank God one of us wasn't in Lake Mary and the other in Waterford Lakes.

And thank God, or the chef, that the F&D Cantina in Lake Mary is good enough to put the Waterford Lakes location a distant memory.

Chela Tequila & Tacos

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chela interior

This week's review of a taco restaurant is Chela Tequila & Tacos in downtown Orlando.

Until very recently, this restaurant was known as Kasa, which did not focus on tacos. It did, however, specialize in small plates, but there wasn't anything about the experience I could recommend.

I can recommend Chela. The food is good, the service is personable, and while the atmosphere is a bit cold and institutional it at least reflects the urban environment in which it is located.

Hourglass Brewing and Wako Taco

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hourglass

With just a little over a week left to vote for Best Craft Beer in our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants (voting ends at midnight Aug. 23), I've been out doing some practical research. Very demanding, but I insist on it.

To that end, I met a friend at Hourglass Brewing in Longwood recently.But for some reason I hadn't gotten around to visiting it until now.

It's a big place and a big operation in terms of its brewing facilities. A big, boxy space, sort of like a warehouse with a bar set up in a corner, there's plenty of room for tables and stools and still space for brewing tanks, seen behind tall windows behind the back side of the bar.

They keep the beers rotating, as a good brewer should. In fact, the available beers listed on the website are under the heading Live Menu; currently they're featuring anniversary drafts with such variety as Auld Clootie (old ale), 'Round the Riverbend (farmhouse ale), Rusty Barnacle (American wild ale), and Apricaustic (fruit beer), which was concocted for the fourth anniversary. This year's commemorative brew is Giant Giant Braggot that blends two stouts blended in bourbon barrels and apple brandy barrels.

Pepe's Cantina Church Street

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pepe church platter 1

Pretty soon, I'm going to have to start writing reviews in Spanish.

Or Spanglish, perhaps.

In case you haven't noticed, we've had a lot -- A LOT -- of Mexican, Tex-Mex and tacomongers open lately. So many that it was a factor in Mucho Tacos and Tequila's decision to close and make way for Muddy Waters, a New Orleans style restaurant (which we could certainly use more of).

But el market will supply what el dining public demands.

Tin & Taco

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Tin and Taco ext

Now comes another player in the craft taco game: Tin & Taco, a downtown quick-server hawking “Craft Tacos. Craft Beers. Craft Soda” from a small storefront on Washington Street just west of Orange Avenue.

The Tin of the name apparently refers to the metal trays the food is served on, the sort of conveyance usually seen in George Raft prison movies.

The Taco part of the name refers, unstartlingly, to tacos, though not exclusively. You may also get your chosen ingredients wrapped within a burrito or in a bowl with rice or served in a bag of Doritos.

Most of the selections are $8, which gets you two “tacos.” It’s nice, however, that you’re allowed to get different varieties to make up your twosome. I chose the Taco Bomb and the Tacosaurus and went conventional taco with both, though I was tempted by the bag of Doritos gimmick (and if it had been 2:45 a.m. on a weekend there would have been no question).

F&D Cantina

Written by Scott Joseph on .

FandD interior

I’m not sure I would call F&D Cantina a sister restaurant to F&D Kitchen and Bar, the Lake Mary restaurant that opened in 2015. Other than the initials, which unimaginatively stand for Food and Drink, and, obviously, ownership, there aren’t many comparisons to be drawn. There isn’t even much of an effort to make a connection by the two entities, other than a small link on the Lake Mary F&D website to an Orlando Business Journal article about the “soon to open” Cantina.

The two are different concepts, which, for the Cantina, is a good thing. If you guessed that the concept here is Mexican, you’d be correct. But the way it is presented is a bit curious.

The menu is divided into sections with headings like “dip,” Social eats,” “Plates,” “Soups,” and “Greens.” Then there’s a separate section called “Mexican Stuff,” though there’s a Carne Asada under the “Plates” heading and another separate section called “Tacos.” Not sure why tacos aren’t considered Mexican but I do give kudos for not including the nachos among the Mexican Stuff. Points taken away, however, just for including nachos on the menu after the OBJ article quoted Charly Robinson, the F&D developer, that the menu would be authentic Mex, not Tex-Mex. (Complimentary chips and salsa are also proffered, a concept that definitely originated north of the wall.)

But let’s not niggle. You want to know how the food was.

PR's Taco Palace College Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 PRs interior

I think I might know why it took so long for PR’s Taco Palace to open its College Park location.

You may recall — and you’ll be forgiven if you don’t — it was first announced that popular Winter Park dive would take over the former Taste restaurant space on West Smith Street in January. Of 2014. That’s a long time even when you take into consideration Orlando’s arcane permitting and inspection procedures.

But apparently they’ve spent the time making the place look old, as in well worn and broken in. The paint seems to have faded a bit, the walls are covered with the sort of handwritten graffiti you’d find on a bathroom stall, and the furniture has been over abused, which in the case of the booth I was sitting in means that the seat back was broken so that every time the woman sitting behind me shifted her weight I was thrown forward face first into the basket of complimentary tortilla chips (nice chips, though they could use a little salt).

Verde Cantina

Written by Scott Joseph on .

verde wall

Generally speaking, if you want to open a restaurant in a space that was recently vacated by a restaurant that was doing the same type of food that you want to offer, you need to make sure that everything about the experience — especially the food — is better than the recently departed concept.

Verde Cantina has moved into the space in Thornton Park that was previously held by a Tijuana Flats, the homegrown chain of Tex-Mex eateries specializing in tacos, burritos and other foods that are as easy to eat as they are to produce. Tijuana Flats is on few “Best of…” lists, but it built its empire on offering reliable food at a good price.

And you’d think that it would be easy to step up the game when following a chain restaurant into a location. But I don’t think that’s the goal of Verde Cantina. The new restaurant, in its early days, doesn’t seem interested in doing better, just good enough.