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

Uncle Julio’s

Exterior

Interior

Spicy seared tuna tacos

**** (4 stars)

I’d been to one of these in Chicago, and they are pretty similar. There’s a bit of a corporate feel to them. We had a large party, so I can’t really comment on the service, because that is always difficult, but the food was all pretty good. There isn’t really a standout appetizer or entree, although the spicy seared tuna tacos that I had were probably the best item. One person complained they were cold, but since they’re almost raw tuna and slaw, it seems appropriate.

Their unique item is the chocolate pinata, a suspended sphere of chocolate that you break open with a bat to scatter fruit and churros into the whipped cream moat below. It was fun for the group to scavenge through the debris and find their favorites.

Uncle Julio’s
8409 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32821
(321) 430-0600
http://www.yelp.com/biz/uncle-julios-orlando

El Cholo

Interior

***** (5 stars)

I’ve been going to El Cholo on Western since I was a child, and it defines Mexican food for me, even if their idea isn’t perfectly aligned with what has come to be known as Tex-Mex, and even if it’s not all authentic Mexican either. I love it.

This location is just as good, if lacking a bit of the small house ambiance. Have a number 1 and original nachos. You won’t be sorry.

El Cholo
1025 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 899-1106
https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-cholo-santa-monica-2

Anita’s Mexican Restaurant

Exterior

Interior

Appetizer sampler

Chicken chipotle

Green enchilada

*** (3 stars)

This place serves typical Tex-Mex food in a road side diner environment.

The most interesting item we had was the chipotle chicken, which had been simmered in a thick red sauce and was fairly spicy. We couldn’t try the rellenos or the tamales because they were out of both, but the green chili cheese enchilada and quesadilla were average. The rice was good, refried beans had an odd flavor.

I would avoid the appetizer sampler, a literal pile of loaded nachos, quesadillas, taquitos and guacamole. It just sort of dissolved into a sodden mess, although the taquitos were pretty good.

Anita’s Mexican Restaurant
114 W Central Ave
Lake Wales, FL 33853
(863) 223-8504
http://www.yelp.com/biz/anitas-mexican-restaurant-lake-wales

On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina

Grilled Shrimp Tacos

Chile relleno

Exterior

Interior

*** (3 stars)

This is a pretty good Tex Mex chain. The menu is quite extensive, and there should be something to please almost everyone, as long as you’re not looking for authentic Mexican food.

The trick is to order items done on the mesquite grill, as they are very nicely flavored. I had the shrimp tacos (I ordered the fish tacos, but that’s another story). My companion had the chile relleno, and didn’t care for the clumsy breading and flavorless stuffing. But the accompanying brisket enchilada was pretty good.

Our favorite item was actually the queso cheese dip. It’s not something I would normally order, but it was a Yelp freebie, and it was excellent, a large serving, filled with lightly spiced peppers. It went well with the complimentary chips and salsa.

Also included in each meal are unlimited black beans and yellow rice. The rice is nicely seasoned and was much better than typical chain restaurant Mexican rice.

Our server was well trained but not a good listener.

The interior build-out is quite nice. It’s hard to imagine that this space the plaza was once occupied by card stores and sunglasses shops.

On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina
12517 State Rd 535
Orlando, FL 32836
(321) 329-3188
https://www.yelp.com/biz/on-the-border-mexican-grill-and-cantina-orlando-4

Avocado Mexican Grill

Quesadilla

Relleno and enchilada

Nachos supreme but without the beans and meat

Interior

** (2 stars)

Two stars is generous. This might be a good place to sit at a sidewalk table and have some chips and a drink, but it’s not a place for good Mexican food. The best of what we had was edible, and not everything qualified.

Runny queso poured over tortillas chips is not nachos. And the refried beans were a remarkable pool of puree closer to the consistency of split pea soup.

The saving grace was the chile relleno, which was fine.

Service was friendly but completely incompetent. It took a half hour just to get the check after we finished eating. I was beginning to wonder if our waitress had gone to another restaurant to have lunch. I wish we had.

Avocado Mexican Grill
715 Bloom St
Ste 130
Celebration, FL 34747
(407) 566-1212
https://www.yelp.com/biz/avocado-mexican-grill-celebration

Taco Norteño

Nachos with ground beef

Tostada Barbacoa, taco pastor

Exterior

Interior

Salsa bar

**** (4 stars)

This neighborhood Mexican restaurant is very popular, probably in part due to the fact that their tacos start at $1.85.

I tried the taco pastor with a soft corn tortilla, the tostada barbacoa, and the nachos with ground beef.

My favorite item was the tostada, which had a nice, crisp, sturdy tortilla and generous slices of avocado. The barbacoa didn’t have a lot of flavor, but the refried beans did.

I didn’t care for the pastor, which was completely dry, with no evidence of marinade or sauce, and didn’t include the somewhat traditional pineapple either.

The nachos were by far the most expensive, but the serving was giant. You have a choice of meat, and indeed they were all about the meat, with very little cheese, and the limited cheese was a thin queso anyway.

The best feature of Norteno is the salsa bar, which offers not only an array of salsas, but also fresh cilantro, onions, jalapenos and limes, so you can deck out your food however you like. There are also free chips to accompany it.

Taco Norteño
12307 W Colonial Dr
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 656-2567
https://www.yelp.com/biz/taco-norte%C3%B1o-winter-garden

Las 3 Maria’s Mexican Restaurant

Exterior

Interior

Kitchen

**** (4 stars)

This small restaurant might seem like a counter serve place, but they actually don’t have a counter, and it’s full table service. The menu may seem rudimentary, but the standards are all here: tacos, enchiladas, chilaquiles, tortas and more. It’s all fixed from scratch by a lady who I assume is named Maria.

And when I say “from scratch” I really mean it. I ordered tacos, and she started with corn meal, formed, pressed and grilled the tortillas herself, and then filled them with my selections of meat.

I liked the chicken best, as the steak and carnitas weren’t quite as tender. All were covered with onions and cilantro. They were small but at $1.50 per taco, they were a good deal.

Las 3 Maria’s Mexican Restaurant
4862 Orange Blossom Trl
Orlando, FL 32839
(407) 925-4174
https://www.yelp.com/biz/las-3-marias-mexican-restaurant-orlando

La Fiesta Mexican Grill

Chilequiles

Chili replenish and quesadilla

Exterior

Interior

*** (3 stars)

While the rave reviews got me excited about La Fiesta, we didn’t find anything particularly remarkable about the place. The best thing we had by far was the sangria, which wasn’t too sweet and has lots of fruit chunks.

Cheese nachos were pretty bland, consisting of good chips covered with a liquid white cheese and nothing else, no jalapenos.

The relleno was pretty weird, although the waiter did warn us that it was stuffed with mashed potatoes. We should have followed his suggestion to substitute some kind of meat. The quesadilla was nicely grilled, and filled with cheese and chicken. It was okay, not great, as were the fairly bland rice and beans.

The best entree was the chilaquiles, which seems to be available only at lunch. The green sauce had a lot of flavor, and the shredded chicken and fried egg were good. The chips didn’t really stand up to the sauce, though, and quickly dissolved.

The decor of the restaurant is nice, but overhead fluorescent light aren’t in keeping with the restaurant ambiance.

Service was excellent.

La Fiesta Mexican Grill
3000 Curry Ford Rd
Orlando, FL 32806
(407) 985-4340
https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-fiesta-mexican-grill-orlando