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

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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.

Blue Jacket Grille

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Blue Jacket sign

The little building at 745 Bennett Road has been home to a number of food and beverage businesses over the years. It was the original location of Redlight Redlight before that popular beer bar moved to Corrine Drive. I believe there was a barbecue restaurant at one point, and in the 1990s it was a gay bar.

More recently it served as the first location for the Smiling Bison, which opened a second location in Sanford in 2015 then last year made that its only location by leaving Bennett Road.

Bocas Grill & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bocas ext

I clearly ordered poorly at Bocas Grill & Bar, a South American eatery out of South Florida that recently opened a location in South Orlando. (Restaurant Row, actually, but we were on a roll with the southern thing.)

In my defense, the menu is really elaborate, with 12 pages. There are breakfast items, rice dishes, noodles, arepas, tostones, burgers, steaks and seafood. I don’t know what made me choose the Pabellón Criollo Venezolano, but I did. It was essentially Ropa Vieja with a Venezuelan accent. It featured a crock of shredded meat next to a crock of black beans, a mound of white rice and sweet plantains that for some reason were topped with cheese.

It was OK.

Cafe Madrid

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cafe Madrid ext

In my yearend wrap up recently, I noted the many restaurants that closed last year. For good number of them, the distance between their opening date and going out of business was relatively short.

So I'm especially in awe of the restaurants that have shown great longevity. Cafe Madrid, a Cuban/Spanish restaurant on Curry Ford Road, is one. It's been serving its simple but reliable food for 28 years.

It couldn't be plainer, occupying a corner space in a strip mall at Conway Road. There are bare-wood tables and simple chairs. There is a bar at the far end of the small dining room, but it doesn't appear that anyone is expected to sit there.

Four Rebels American Taco Kitchen & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Four Rebels food with background

I'm just not getting what's so rebellious about about Four Rebels American Taco Kitchen & Bar.

Whatever disruption there was to be made in the taco category has already been done, and to satisfying effect with such tacomongers as Hunger Street, Black Rooster and even Pig Floyd's. The latter two are even within walking distance of Four Rebels, which took over the space vacated two years ago by the short-lived Segafredo. You probably didn't visit Segafredo -- that's one of the reasons it was short-lived -- but that's the building in Mills Park with the rooftop lounge. (The roof was closed on both of my visits to Four Rebels.)

Tandoori Bowl

Written by Scott Joseph on .

tandoori bowl interior

Next up in the assemblage line of restaurants: Indian cuisine.

Tandoori Bowl is a new restaurant on Alafaya Trail in Oviedo that employs the “one from column A, one from column B...” style of meal construction. Indian cuisine being what it is, however, you can expect more columns.

Here you start with your carb, either white rice or brown, which is simple enough. (You also have to begin by choosing regular or large size bowls; regular is plenty big.) Next you choose your protein, which might be chicken, lamb, paneer, chickpeas, pork or steak.

Pork or steak? Holy cow, what kind of Indian restaurant is this?

Hemisphere

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hemisphere preview window

My first critique of the then-new Hemisphere restaurant, in November of 1992, in the just opened Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport had one recurring word: grand.

The restaurant is on the ninth floor of the hotel, but diners entered on the tenth and descended a curved staircase that allowed them to take in the sweeping vista from the dramatic two-story windows. The lighting was golden and the decor posh. And the cuisine, Italian in the early days, was high quality. I encouraged readers to experience this new restaurant even if they had no travel plans (the complimentary valet at the hotel’s entrance made it hassle free).

Economics and changes in customer demands caused the restaurant to evolve over the years. The stairway entrance was scrapped; just take the elevator to the ninth floor and walk in, basically under the stairway. The cuisine focus shifted, as it has at many restaurants in more than 25 years.

Late in 2016 the restaurant underwent another redo. The decor is now cold and austere. There is little to remind you of its sumptuous beginning. Except for the windows overlooking the runway, it looks like the breakfast room you’d find in any hotel. And indeed, one corner of the dining room is set aside for hotel guests to serve themselves cereals and such in the morning.

Most disappointing, the food is inappropriately overpriced and not worth even half the cost.

P is for Pie

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pie sign

P is for Pie was just made for cold, rainy days. Nothing is better than warm, baked goods when the weather is dreary. Well, except maybe being near the ovens that baked them.

P is for Pie is the name of a small bakeshop in the Audubon Park neighborhood, and no, it does not offer any helpful guidance for other letters of the alphabet, you're on your own there.

C might be for Cake. Or Coffee. Or Cinnamon, especially if you combine it with an R for Roll. In other words -- or other letters, if you prefer -- PifP does a lot more than its syllabary namesake.

Castaway's Sports Bar & Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Castaways ext

If you're not able to make the trip to Atlanta to watch UCF in the Peach Bowl on Monday, you might want to find a sports bar where you can watch the game with other fans.

Actually, it's officially the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, so thank God the game wasn't scheduled for Sunday.

If you're out Waterford Lakes way, consider stopping by Castaway's Sports Bar & Grill, which opened recently. The place has plenty of big-screen televisions -- is huge-screen tv a category? -- and enough room for everybody from section 102 of Spectrum Stadium.

Turquaz Turkish Cuisine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Turquaz exterior

The first time I visited Turquaz, a Turkish restaurant on International Drive, it was a Friday night, somewhere around 8 o'clock, and the place was empty. It was open for business, but eerily quiet.

The second time I visited was at lunchtime, and the number of patrons had doubled: A single woman sat on the patio working on a laptop and smoking a hookah. I had the dining room all to myself for the duration of my meal.