Pepe’s Cantina

Interior

Exterior

Tacos Al pastor

Vegetable fajitas

**** (4 stars)

This I-Drive Tex-Mex restaurant is certainly an improvement on the counter-serve concept that was here before. Now there is full table service. While the menu seems to be a bit tourist priced, there are some excellent lunch deals.

The best deal of all is the house margarita, which is very well made, generous, and is about half price during the day. Plus, it comes with free queso which was quite tasty.

We enjoyed all the menu items we tried, and the service was pleasant.

Pepe’s Cantina
5415 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 317-6649
https://www.yelp.com/biz/pepe-s-cantina-orlando

Currito

Interior

Cantina bowl

Quesadilla

Frijol torta

*** (3 stars)

If Currito were a Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood I probably wouldn’t be a regular visitor. But on the other hand, I’m not a regular visitor to places like Chipotle or Tijuana Flats, and frankly the food is better at Currito.

The atmosphere isn’t bad–considering the time-worn condition of this terminal at La Guardia, they’ve carved out a cozy niche.

We tried a quesadilla, some chips and salsa, a bowl and a wrap. All of them were just fine. The salsa was better than at half the Mexican restaurants I go to, and the chips were nice and crisp.

The house margarita is excellent, and a decent value and size serving for an airport drink.

Service was polite and reasonably attentive.

Currito
Newark International Airport
Terminal A
Newark, NJ 07114
(973) 547-7938
https://www.yelp.com/biz/currito-newark-3

The Whole Enchilada

Exterior

Interior

While enchilada player

**** (4 stars)

This is essentially a boozy version of Tijuana Flats. In addition to counter ordering there is also a full bar. You can order at the counter and they bring the food to your table, or you can sit at the bar or a few booths facing it for full service.

The Whole Enchilada platter I tried was very good, with two enchiladas, rice and choice of black or pinto beans. I had one ground beef enchilada, one shredded pork, and both were good. There’s a salsa bar to spice thing up, but not the array of hot sauces you’ll find elsewhere. Most of the rest of the menu is different burritos with various stuffings.

The house margarita was made to order and very good.

The employees are all enthusiastic, and prices are reasonable.

The interior decor is nice, and they have an upstairs with outdoor seating overlooking charming Winter Garden.

The Whole Enchilada
129 W Plant St
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 347-9699
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-whole-enchilada-winter-garden-2

Tortas El Rey

Menu

Exterior

Torta Al pastor

Chicken burrito

***** (5 stars)

This is a great place for real Mexican street food. I had the chicken burrito special which came with a drink for under 7 bucks. It was a huge tasty burrito; it came with peppers, lime wedges and two salsas, red and green, which both had a kick.

Even better was the Torta al Pastor, a giant sandwich filled with savory pork, peppers, and tomato. One of the best tortas in town.

The place is a former Checkers, so it’s efficient to drive through or to order at the window and eat at one of the umbrella-covered tables. It took a few minutes to make the food, but definitely worth it.

Tortas El Rey
6127 S Orange Blossom Trl
Orlando, FL 32809
(407) 850-6980
https://www.yelp.com/biz/tortas-el-rey-orlando

El Pollo Loco

3 Pcs Chicken Combo

**** (4 stars)

El Pollo Loco has always been my favorite fast food place. It’s healthy (depending upon what you order), tasty, and generous. A three piece combo with chicken breasts, side salad, a heap of cole slaw, corn tortillas and a drink is ten bucks. You can’t beat that! And the salsa bar has fresh cilantro and lots of different salsas. Service was friendly and efficient.

El Pollo Loco
1545 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-2772
https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-pollo-loco-los-angeles-56

Toca Madera

Back room

Enchiladas De Mole

Carne asada hot rock

Exterior

**** (4 stars)

This is a very vibrant restaurant with a club-like atmosphere in the front room. It’s loud by design, and louder because of the central bar. HOWEVER… there is a back room (and an upstairs room) where you can find a reasonable noise level and enjoy some very interesting food.

The free chips and salsa were good, and the plantain chips were particularly good, not overwhelmingly tough or banana-y. I’ve had a lot of guacamole in my life, but this was the best I’ve encountered–creamy, and topped with pomegranate seeds and interesting herbs.

The carne asada hot rock preparation was okay, but nothing spectacular; the soft tortillas were a bit more like roti.

The clear standout of the meal was the enchiladas de mole. WOW! This is by far the best mole I have ever tasted. They claim they use 42 ingredients and cook it for 24 hours, and the complexity shows it is worth it!

Service was very attentive. It’s worth noting that server’s costumes may be setting a new record for short hemlines.

Yes, many of the patrons are narcissistic, dressed to the nines selfie-takers making duck faces into their smartphones. But there are also plenty of well-adjusted people enjoying some creative cuisine. My advice is to go early, before it gets too full of itself.

Toca Madera
8450 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 852-9400
https://www.yelp.com/biz/toca-madera-los-angeles

4 Locos Tacos

Exterior

Fixings Bar

Interior

Flautas

***** (5 stars)

This is a great little quick serve place opposite Crooked Can. Although the address is on Plant street, it’s actually at the back of the building, where there is ample parking.

They have lots of types of authentic soft tacos, but their specialty is Al Pastor, which happens to be my favorite. Traditional Pastor includes pineapple, but some people don’t like that. They’ve solved the problem by offering the taco with just the meat, and then having an extensive fixins bar that includes a delicious pineapple habanero relish.

I also really like the flautas, which had a perfectly fried and delicate shell with moist, slightly sweet chicken filling.

In addition to soft drinks they offer beer, wine and, surprisingly, margaritas.

4 Locos Tacos
360 West Plant Street
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 554-2312
https://www.yelp.com/biz/4-locos-tacos-winter-garden-2

El Patron Restaurante Mexicano

Presidente Margarita

Interior

Exterior

Nachos with no beans or meat

Taco Al pastor

Special dessert

**** (4 stars)

I had avoided this restaurant for many years after a bad experience when they first opened, but I’m glad I decided to try it again. It’s a pretty interesting Mexican restaurant, particularly considering it’s in a tourist area where it doesn’t need to be all that good.

I admit I started with the Presidente Margarita, which at 24 ounces may have favorably colored my experience of the rest of the meal! It was much too sweet, but a plate of lime wedges fixed that.

I started with the nachos, a generous serving to say the least. I don’t like bean and meat on my nachos, so I had them without that, and they were really good–even though I usually want melted cheese, not queso on nachos. There was a generous mound of pickled jalapenos on top, and they were just the right degree of spiciness.

After all those nachos, I just had a single taco al pastor. It was very authentic, with two corn tortillas, bits of pineapple, and just the right level of spice in the marinade.

Even though I was full, I couldn’t pass up a dessert special, bunuelos. This was a stack of three deep-fried flour tortillas coated in sugar and cinnamon and topped with vanilla ice cream. It was really excellent, very freshly made and crisp, with the perfect combination of sweet and salty, crisp and chewy, hot and cold. A dessert home run.

I really enjoyed my lunch, which was not cheap, but was just what I wanted. Everyone else in the place was taking advantage of the lunch buffet, which is a good deal, especially for a tourist area.

Service was attentive and friendly, and the place is nicely decorated. I will definitely return.

El Patron Restaurante Mexicano
12167 S Apopka Vineland Rd
Orlando, FL 32836
(407) 238-5300
https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-patron-restaurante-mexicano-orlando

El Tenampa

Interior

Appetizer sampler

**** (4 stars)

This is a nicely decorated neighborhood restaurant with excellent service. The first impression is that it will be very authentic Mexican, and there are such items on the menu, but there is also a lot of Americanized Tex Mex.

We tried the appetizer sampler of quesadilla, guacamole, chicken taquitos, and nachos. The nachos were too much about refried beans for my taste, but the rest of the items were good.

Because the appetizer was very generous we just shared a taco plate. Three authentic tacos were served on soft corn tortillas. The beef was okay, and the carnitas was tender but not very flavorful. However the pastor was terrific, with lots of flavor and a slight kick. All were topped with fresh cilantro.

There’s a full bar. The margarita I had was heavy on agave flavor, but a generous pour. Prices are reasonable.

El Tenampa
11242 S Orange Blossom Trl
Orlando, FL 32837
(407) 850-9499
https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-tenampa-orlando

Reyes Mezcaleria

Exterior

Lounge

Interior

Chips, salsa and guacamole

Ceviche

Tuna tostada

Carnitas taco

***** (5 stars)

It’s about time Orlando got a gourmet Mexican restaurant! When we travel I always enjoy trying Mexican places that are doing fusion cuisine, or thinking outside the box, like fine dining restaurants do in Mexico. The chef at Reyes is drawing upon Baja and other seacoast cusines, and says he was influenced by Rick Bayless’ (Frontera, Topolobompo) cooking, but I actually thought it was better than those places.

We started with chips and salsa, and guacamole, just to compare the old standards. The chips are obviously house-made, thick and sturdy, with a good corn flavor. The guacamole was good, enhanced by pickled onions on top. The salsas were outstanding: a fairly typical red, excellent green, and amazing chipotle. I’m not even a big fan of chipotle peppers, but I couldn’t stop eating that one!

The other appetizer we tried was the ceviche. My companion enjoyed it, but I felt like the fish was overcooked, either by the lime juice or perhaps actual cooking, I couldn’t tell.

For our mains we shared the tuna tostada and 12-hour carnitas tacos. Both were excellent. The tostada featured thin slices of tuna on a thin, flat fried tortilla, and the delicate fish wasn’t overwhelmed by the toppings. The carnitas are a house specialty, and I can see why, They are incredibly succulent and tender, and just needed a squeeze of lime to make a perfect soft taco.

The space is a remodel of the old Citrus restaurant, and has benefitted from being lightened up.

Service was attentive, except for an unexplained disappearing act when we were ready for the check.

The place is all hard surfaces, so I’m sure it can get noisy, but the back room seems quieter, and there wasn’t anyone else in there at brunch, so we enjoyed it very much.

Reyes Mezcaleria
821 N Orange Ave
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 868-9007
https://www.yelp.com/biz/reyes-mezcaleria-orlando-3