Monday, June 18, 2018
Dining

Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

GULFPORT

What do we know about El Chapo, a.k.a. Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán? He ran the Sinaloa Cartel, even from prison, and first appeared on Forbes’ billionaires list in 2009. He’s 5 feet 6. He’s the father of 12 or 13 children. He has a talent for tunneling. He’s got a buddy named Sean Penn.

Does he like tacos? This we do not know.

Angelique Everett’s husband, Josh Dowd, came up with the name. At first it was a taco stand at the Bends, a St. Petersburg bar owned by some friends. Everett says there was some backlash about the name, but they had no intent to offend.

Because, really, it was something most of us could get behind: a lineup of affordable tacos, some authentic Mexican street style, some gringo style, no judgment, augmented with nachos, burritos, enchiladas and such.

Everett and Dowd live in Gulfport; Everett worked at a little restaurant called Fish, which took over the spot of long-standing Peg’s Cantina. Peg’s worked because it was a convivial indoor-outdoor Mexican-ish restaurant that didn’t take itself too seriously but had good beer. I’m not sure why Fish didn’t have a long run (other than, in a digital world, that’s a heck of a name to try to Google), but the space became available and the couple jumped on it.

Truth was, Peg’s departure left an empty slot in that niche. Gulfport has beloved standbys like O’Maddy’s and Backfin Blue, Italian and diners (Pia’s and Stella’s), pizza and hot dogs (Siri’s and Yummy’s) and tea (T and Me). But not affordable Mex.

El Chapo Taco is homespun. The menus are handwritten, the decor is simple (lots of patio furniture in the front yard, a covered deck from which to ride out summer rains), the service is friendly and down to earth. Bartender Nick Mahoney, who moved here from New York City, is working with a broad list of tequilas and mezcals but is essentially doing approachable, easy-drinking margaritas. This is not an amaro and tinctures kind of bar, more of a "do you want a salt rim" sort.

The anchor of the menu is a lineup of seven different taco fillings: braised pork, chipotle pulled chicken, braised beef, black beans and corn, grilled chicken, ground beef (served Old El Paso style, with cheddar and sour cream) and Baja-style battered cod. Many of these can feature in a burrito or as nacho toppers. As you’re mulling over your choice, begin with a basket of chips with a trio of dippers ($10.50): a smooth and mild salsa, a chunky-style guac and a lush queso dotted with mild roasted jalapenos. If you’ve got a little extra room, add in an order of fried shishito peppers with a sprinkling of salt and a squeeze of lime ($7.95). I kept waiting to get a fiery one — on average, every 10th shishito will blow your wig back.

The single best thing on the El Chapo menu isn’t a taco at all. It’s elote, or Mexican street corn ($3 on its own, but it comes with a full dinner), a cheesy, blistery, delicious dental nightmare. Tacos are served individually (most $3.50) or as a duo with black beans, herb-flecked rice and a short ear of the corn. Both the braised pork and the chipotle chicken are sumptuous and flavorful (but not hot), and the beer-battered cod, jazzed up with crunchy jicama and cabbage and a drizzle of chipotle crema, is a winner.

Both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties’ cups runneth over with tacos right now. (I’m hearing great things about Chile Verde at the corner of 28th Street and 22nd Avenue N in St. Petersburg in an old gas station; will check it out soon.) El Chapo is not likely to rise to the pantheon of Tampa Bay tacos, but it’s a fun, friendly and affordable newcomer that suits Gulfport’s character and needs.

Contact Laura Reiley at
[email protected] or
(727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.
She dines unannounced and the Times pays all expenses.

     
         
Comments
From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

I know we have three more months or so of hot-as-dog-breath Tampa Bay summer, but let’s start things off on the right foot with some frozen treats. Ice cream is on my mind after a recent visit to Disney Springs, when I found love in a perfect scoop o...
Published: 06/13/18
Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

LAKE BUENA VISTA Disney Springs has swiftly become a playground or trial balloon for the country?s celebrity chefs. Art Smith, Masaharu Morimoto, Rick Bayless, Guy Fieri, Tony Mantuano, Wolfgang Puck and others are already on board, with names like ...
Published: 06/13/18
A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

Going fishing is like doing your taxes. If it’s something you dive into just once a year you end up relearning the whole thing every time. Jake Whitfield eyed me, no judgment, and decided to cast for me the first time, my little wriggling greenback z...
Published: 06/11/18
Ceviche closing in South Tampa

Ceviche closing in South Tampa

TAMPA – The Ceviche restaurant at 2500 W Azeele St. is closing.Caledon Concepts, which operates Ceviche restaurants in Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg, said the restaurant’s last day at that location will be June 16."The expiration of the lease for...
Published: 06/08/18
Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

SAVE THE DATE: HARD ROCK B-DAYOn June 14, 1971, the founders opened their own American-style diner in an old Rolls-Royce dealership and called it Hard Rock Cafe. They had a vision to combine music, memorabilia and all-American fare. Here’s a tip: To ...
Published: 06/06/18
Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

GULFPORTWhat do we know about El Chapo, a.k.a. Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán? He ran the Sinaloa Cartel, even from prison, and first appeared on Forbes’ billionaires list in 2009. He’s 5 feet 6. He’s the father of 12 or 13 children. He has a talen...
Published: 06/04/18
Updated: 06/07/18
National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

Believe it or not, Friday is already June 1, which means National Doughnut Day is back with sweet deals.The day was created to celebrate the Salvation Army’s "Doughnut Lassies," who served the treats to American soldiers on the front lines during Wor...
Updated one month ago
A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

TAMPAThe executive chefs all fly into Columbus, Ohio. Before they step into the kitchen, before they sharpen a knife, they sit down and have a meeting, an open dialogue. They examine the whole menu: What’s working? What needs fixing? And then they ge...
Updated one month ago
Restaurant review: Bar Asia will have to raise the bar if it wants to thrive in South Tampa

Restaurant review: Bar Asia will have to raise the bar if it wants to thrive in South Tampa

TAMPALet’s review our star system. One star is fair, two is good, three is great and four is mind-blowing. I’m going to start my review of Bar Asia by saying that one star for service is generous. Here’s why.On my first visit, the bartender was crabb...
Updated one month ago
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughter’s Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Updated one month ago