Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: Margaritas and Mexican food, a match made in Palm Harbor

PALM HARBOR

Chris Fragale has a lot of energy. Growing up in restaurants, at one point he owned five Ballyhoo Grills. He ditched all but one in Gainesville and concentrated on his Palm Harbor project, Ozona Blue, as well as City Fish in Oldsmar, only to reopen the original Ballyhoo Grill location last year. And then he kept going. • At the end of July he launched Burrito Bus Stop and Cantina in what was once Vallarta's Mexican Restaurant. There's a red school bus at the front from which you can order (shades of Taco Bus?), but for sit-down service you order the traditional way at the table. And thus far, therein lie some problems.

Over the years I've reviewed Fragale's restaurants mostly favorably, with my greatest enthusiasm for the professionalism of the Ballyhoo Grill staff. Burrito Bus has a long way to go before it's firing on as many cylinders. So far there are service lags and stutters, with servers going missing when you most need that fork.

Depending on your proclivities, service bobbles may fade in importance when you get a gander at the menu: The whole back side is devoted to margaritas, scores of them all made with Margaritaville tequila and ringing in at a clean $5 for 22 ounces, $7 for 32. There are skinny ones, bright blue ones, edgy ones (one with cilantro, another with avocado and agave nectar), kooky ones (sake and cherry syrup, anyone?) and sensible traditional ones that don't deviate from tequila, Grand Marnier, lime, salt, rocks. And if tequila isn't your poison, a long list of mojitos (all $5.50), beers and sangria round out the offerings.

Now flip the menu over and start reading about the food. Huh. Big props for all the vegetarian options, with fillings like seasoned tempeh, tofu and eggplant, or (the best of them) grilled butternut squash tinged with red peppers, poblanos, onion and tomato. But then there are oddities like this: a gator taco (alliteratively but confusingly called the croco taco, $5.99) and the hot dog taco ($4.89), an unholy matrimony of beef dog, pulled pork, refried beans, queso fresco and pepper strips on housemade flour tortillas. It's not bad, actually, a mash-up thought to have been invented on New York's Lower East Side a few years back.

Scoop up chunky, limey housemade guac ($3.89 small) with warm fried chips while you decide on your strategy: pick taco ($2.99), burrito ($6.99), burrito supremo ($6.99), torta ($6.79), tostada ($3.49) or platter ($7.99); then choose your filling and toppings. Of the dozen fillings, the most successful are the butternut squash, the deeply savory shredded Venezuelan beef mechada and the slow-roasted pork carnitas.

In order to compete effectively with Pinellas County's top Mexican restaurants, the kitchen is going to have to focus in a bit: On many dishes the cabbage is so wet, and shredded so finely, that it reads like cole slaw — not a welcome accompaniment to a taco or a trio of seriously hot jalapeno poppers. And house chile rellenos ($7.99) didn't taste like poblano or hatch peppers, their cheese filling more like a liquid cheese dip, and their coating a straight-up bread crumb as opposed to an egg batter.

Still, the price point is competitive and the portion sizes are generous at Burrito Bus (especially those 32-ounce margaritas, phew). And while the chocolate peanut butter taco ($3.89) brought a somewhat mystifying pliable chocolate cookie enfolding cold peanut butter fudge, the housemade churros ($1.89) make a successful ending — sweet, crunchy warm, with a little ramekin of chocolate sauce — at Fragale's latest Tampa Bay venture.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

.

Burrito Bus Stop and Cantina

Fountains Plaza, 34718 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor

(727) 754-7805; burritobuscantina.com

Cuisine: Mexican

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 24 hours Friday and Saturday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; reservations accepted; full bar

Prices: $2.99 tacos to $12.99 entrees, margaritas start at $5

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★ Service: ★★

Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★½

Review: Margaritas and Mexican food, a match made in Palm Harbor 08/26/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 26, 2013 4:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Fans in Florida and beyond won't forget Gregg Allman

    Music & Concerts

    The end can come quickly for those who live fast and live hard, who create worlds with their talent and sometimes come close to throwing them away.

    This Oct. 13, 2011 file photo shows Gregg Allman performs at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville, Tenn. On Saturday, May 27, 2017, a publicist said the musician, the singer for The Allman Brothers Band, has died. (AP Photo/Joe Howell, File)
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 28

    Events

    Alabama: The country music all-timers hit the road for the Southern Drawl tour with openers, the Charlie Daniels Band. 7 p.m., Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $26-$86. (813) 301-2500.

    Handout photo of Alabama, performing 5/28/17 at Amalie Arena in Tampa. Credit: Alan Messer
  3. Find serenity at Grand Cayman Island's Cemetery Beach

    Travel

    GRAND CAYMAN ISLAND

    Hey, cruisers, if you've been to Hell and back, snuggled with the stingrays and taken photos with the turtles at the Cayman Turtle Centre, you might be looking for something different on your next trip. (Guilty!)

    Good snorkeling can be found off shore at Cemetery Beach in Grand Cayman.
  4. Karen Bail, who helped Gibbs kids get to Broadway, retires

    Stage

    ST. PETERSBURG — When neatnicks retire, they leave no trace behind. Their desks are clean, like a runway after the plane has taken off.

    Karen Bail warms up seniors Jonathan O’Brien, left, as Juan Peron and Addam Setzer as Che Guevara before the dress rehearsal of Evita in April.
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 27

    Events

    Tampa Bay Margarita Festival: The Barenaked Ladies will headline this festival with opener Cowboy Mouth. Enjoy more than 50 varieties of margarita drinks including a Sriracha strawberry, a bacon rita and even a jalapeno Cabo rita. There's beer and vodka for the non-tequila drinkers. Noon, Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N …

    istockphoto