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.
I would recommend that if you’d like to try Verde’s tacos to visit on a Tuesday. That’s when the restaurant features Taco Tuesday, because it would be silly to have Taco Tuesday on a Monday. Tacos on this alliterative day are $2.50 each.
But before you start anticipating the Pork Belly Taco or Fish or Gulf Shrimp Taco, you should know that TT only applies to chicken, beef, carnitas or veggie tacos. (That information is not included on the website menu but is printed at the top of the one you’ll be presented at the restaurant.)
And $2.50 is more than generous for the carnitas taco that I ordered. My server did not ask whether I wanted a corn or flour tortilla, so you should know that flour is the default. If it wanted to have any kind of Mexican cred it would be the other way around. The taco was just big enough to cover a side plate and the chunks of pork were topped with some queso fresco and chopped tomatoes that were probably meant to be pico de gallo. It was, as I said, good enough. I think I would have been less satisfied if I’d paid the usual $13 for a plate of three, even if it did include the rather mundane beans and Mexican rice. (The menu says they’re refried beans, but I saw no evidence of refrying of any kind.)
Those sides were included with my order of Chicken Enchiladas, three tortillas, flour again, with shredded chicken and a light ladling of green tomatillo sauce. There isn’t a whole lot of difference among the various Tex-Mex food items, so how the ingredients are rolled and sauced usually determines its designation on the menu. Enchiladas should be covered in the sauce. What was served here was basically a large taquito with a bit of sauce.
The atmosphere is pleasant and appropriately spartan. One wall of the two level indoor space features a red brick wall with the restaurant’s name and motto: Mexican Soul Food (I like it but it doesn’t really mean anything when you really think about it). The space is larger than I remember, but the real draw, like most of the other restaurants in Thornton Park, is the outdoor seating.
It’s nice to see an independently owned restaurant take over the address previously occupied by a chain. But it would be even nicer for it to offer a more enticing product than its predecessor.
Verde Cantina is at 8 N. Summerlin Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily (this is information they did not feel was necessary to put on the website). The phone number is 407-930-8160.