Señor Taco in Pinellas Park specializes in tacos on the soft shell

PINELLAS PARK — When we asked for restaurant tips a few months ago, I got a lot of suggestions. But one place was mentioned several times. I received calls, e-mails, blog comments and a couple of letters about Señor Taco, a modest spot in what appears to be a converted roadside motel on Park Boulevard. • I have two theories on why so many people recommended this place.

The first theory is the food. Cinthia and Carlos Sosa are running a no-nonsense taqueria like you might find back in Progreso, their hometown on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Señor Taco has been open about a year and a half, starting out as an extension of their taco cart, Yucateca, on Starkey Road just north of Ulmerton Road.

The specialty of the house is born of Yucatecan heritage. Carlos Sosa is clearly proud of his pork dish cochinita pibil, and will excitedly talk about the preparation. He starts with a primal cut of pork shoulder, rubs it with achiote and the juice of sour oranges, wraps it in banana leaves and roasts it for hours. The acidic juice and the long cook break down the tough cut and make it pull-apart tender. The meat, dubbed "Mayan BBQ" on the menu, is the star on tacos and tortas, a traditional Mexican sandwich.

There is a note under the taco heading of the menu: "Our tacos are served the Mexican way: onions, cilantro and salsa on SOFT corn tortillas." To add more emphasis to the capital letters in SOFT, the word is also underlined. They make the corn tortillas here, and while they have flour tortillas and even the crunchy shell-shaped kind consider the note a hint at which direction you should go. Flour tortillas are a nice conveyance, while soft corn tortillas are an integral ingredient. (And though crispy shells originated in Mexico, they are largely an American fast-food thing. But Sosa makes his in-house.) Taquerias often double their tortillas, but the tortillas here are thick enough to stand on their own while remaining soft enough to wrap.

There are seven meats to choose from: carne asada (grilled steak, $2.10); puerco (grilled pork, $2); pollo (braised shredded chicken, $2); picadillo (ground beef, $1.85); carnitas (fried pork, $2); chorizo (Mexican sausage, $2); and the cochinita pibil ($2). Over the course of fewer visits than it should have taken to eat seven tacos, we tried — and recommend — them all. Forced to pick a favorite, I'd go with the chorizo, a very spicy crumbled sausage. And the carnitas.

The tortas feature most of the same meats available on the tacos and range from $6.25 to $6.75. Most of the sandwiches have refried beans and lettuce along with the meat, but the cochinita is more simple, with just pickled red onion. The cochinita at Señor Taco is a little mild, and I preferred it on the torta, where there was more pickled onion to contrast the pork, to the taco. But I had a cochinita taco on every visit. So it's not as if I'm complaining.

You won't want to be distracted from the tacos or the tortas, but to be sure, we tried some other things on the menu. A grilled pork steak ($12.75) had a pleasant citrus zest, and we tried a burrito fried el Muerto style ($5.95 plain, $6.70 fried). The Chuy-Kak platter ($8.89) is a combo of two specialty tacos: the "machete," with pork, mushrooms, onions and cheese; and the "choriqueso," with chorizo and cheese. The fillings on those tacos were good, but they came on flour tortillas. For me, corn is the way to go.

The carne asada fries ($7.25) are a fun appetizer. A plate of french fries is topped with steak, then dressed with cheese, guacamole and crema. It was like someone came in and fixed everything that is wrong about chili-cheese fries. More traditional was the queso fundido ($6.75), a vat of cheese topped with the spicy chorizo with a side of flour tortillas for dipping. It comes with instructions to eat it quickly while the cheese is still warm. It's an easy order to follow.

There are no desserts, and the Sosas are working on getting permits to sell beer and wine. Until then, have a horchata ($1.50), a sweet rice milk.

The atmosphere is modest. But it's the kind of place that is about the food on the table, not the table itself.

So, the second theory as to why I heard from so many people about this place?

On each visit, as we were leaving, Carlos' mother and our server, Nina Jenkins, smiled, waved and said, "Tell your friends about us!"

Maybe everybody was just doing as they were told.

Jim Webster can be reached at jwebster@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

Señor Taco

6447 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park; (727) 289-7080;

no website.

Cuisine: Mexican, tacos

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

Details: V, MC, Discover.

Prices: Tacos $1-$4.24, entrees $4.95 to $13.75, appetizers $2.25 to $7.25.

Rating out of four stars: Food: ★★ 1/2 Service: ★★ Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★ 1/2

Señor Taco in Pinellas Park specializes in tacos on the soft shell 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 5:30am]

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