Catrinas Tacos and Tequila
This taco place adorned with Mexican folk art has transformed the former Fourth of July Cafe space into its colorful West Tampa digs.
Catrinas Tacos and Tequila owners Karol Ortiz and executive chef Tisbeth Mejia ran a similar operation in South Tampa, Catrinas Cocina y Galeria, from 2012 to 2017. Sarasota saw the premiere of a Catrinas Tacos and Tequila in 2017, but that spot closed in 2019.
For the West Tampa restaurant launched on Jan. 17, the duo have shifted their focus. Ortiz said they’ve traveled many times over the years to Mejia’s hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, and other locales looking to evolve their concept. A speedier model stood out.
You now order Catrinas’ regionally inspired Mexican cuisine at the counter, find a seat and the food is brought to your table.
“We hope to get this new location going and eventually open more similar locations in Miami and Orlando,” Ortiz said.
Tacos and tamales built upon fresh ingredients like meats cooked on site daily are on the full menu. More returning favorites include queso fundido, burritos and quesadillas, plus guacamole topped with shrimp and pomegranate seeds.
But heads up: Catrinas is offering a smaller lineup and no alcohol while in soft-opening mode with limited hours. At the moment, the restaurant is cash only as well. The full menu should roll out in a month or so, followed by beer, wine and liquor.
“This location has been challenging ... but we are working on serving full alcohol within a two-month period after opening,” Ortiz said. “In the meantime, customers can bring their own bottle for a small corkage fee.”
Another feature of Catrinas is the private speakeasy vault room, which will also debut later on. According to Ortiz, who said the restaurant’s building is an old 1800s bank, the reservations-only area will host dinners fueled by customized dishes from Mejia with bottle pairings for up to 10 people.
“Customers will be [in] the actual 1800s bank vault enjoying a private dinner,” Ortiz said.
1611 N Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 304-2709.
The worldwide Filipino fast-food chain with a cult-like following arrived in Pinellas Park last week. Jollibee is beloved for its fried chicken Chickenjoy and other famed items such as peach mango pie and Jolly Spaghetti, covered in sweet sauce, ham, ground beef and hot dogs. Founded in 1975 in the Philippines and new to Tampa Bay, the iconic chain now operates 40 restaurants in the U.S. Jacksonville is home to Florida’s first Jollibee, making Pinellas Park the second in the state. 4045 Park Blvd. N, Pinellas Park. jollibeeusa.com.
Michelle Faedo’s Tampeño Cuisine
Inside the County Center building in downtown Tampa, Michelle Faedo’s Tampeño Cuisine has brought its signature grub to a second location. The restaurant serves house specialties (think guava and cheese empanadas or deviled crab) and a number of sandwiches, including the traditional Cuban pressed with seasoned roast pork, honey smoked ham, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and dill pickles. Additional eats like breakfast sandwiches, coffee and hot lunch specials are also available. Michelle Faedo and her husband Robert started doing Tampanian fare as Faedo’s Deli in the back kitchen of a mom-and-pop grocery store in 1996 and later expanded with their popular food truck Michelle Faedo’s on the Go. The new Tampeño Cuisine outpost with tables inside and out opened on Jan. 8; the mixed-use apartment complex Encore! on the edge of downtown Tampa welcomed the first location in 2018. 601 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 284-5756. michelle-faedos.business.site.
Crepe Factory celebrated its grand opening on Jan. 16. The cozy joint does exactly what you think: sweet and savory European crepes. One signature is South Rail Road, a crepe built upon creamy cheese spread, roasted eggplant and mild pepper spread, dill pickles and prosciutto. The whole thing is breaded in Italian bread crumbs and then deep fried. In addition to coffee and tea, appetizers and soups round out the options. 500 Main St., Suite C, Safety Harbor. (727) 239-0901. europeancrepe.com.
The second location for Clearwater Beach’s casual acai and poke bowl purveyor with a tropical vibe has hit the Countryside community. Kaia Bowls carries a health-minded, Hawaiian-inspired list of bowled creations, among them the poke and acai variety. There are pitaya, green, “bananaberry,” coconut, spirulina, chia pudding and oatmeal bowls to choose between as well. Complete your meal with kombucha on tap. 2539 Countryside Blvd., Clearwater. (727) 754-4699. kaiabowls.com.
Other openings: Duke’s Brewhouse (Brandon), Harvest Bowl (Seminole Heights), the Salty Crab Bar & Grill (Clearwater Beach)
After more than 70 years in St. Petersburg, Babalu has closed at 9246 Fourth St. N. A sign posted to the neighborhood restaurant and bar reads, “The Babalu would like to thank our patrons from the many years of support! At this moment we are no longer in business.” Babalu, established as a drive-up food stand in 1946, according to its website, churned out hearty American dishes in an approachable indoor-outdoor setting. Bites such as chicken wings, snow crab legs, ribs, seafood platters and burgers made up the varied selection.
The uber-popular chain of burger restaurants will open a 3,200-square-foot store at Midtown Tampa about a year from now. Headed for the mixed-use development’s main entrance off Cypress Street, Shake Shack slings menu favorites such as Angus beef burgers, frozen custard and crinkle-cut fries. Midtown Tampa is slated to premiere in February 2021 near Interstate 275 and N Dale Mabry Highway. This location for Shake Shack, which began in New York in 2004 and operates 14 Florida stores, will mark the first in Tampa Bay. shakeshack.com.
Huey Magoo’s is coming to Tampa Bay. As part of its expansion throughout the Southeast, the Central Florida-based chicken tender chain will add locations in Pinellas and Pasco counties this year. New franchisees Collie and Dametris Lightsey aim to open four restaurants in the St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park and Seminole areas. The duo are targeting Ulmerton Road in Largo for their first location that’s expected to arrive in October. Another franchisee, James Connolly, will bring Huey Magoo’s to greater Tampa, alongside Lakeland and the Villages. Connolly has signed a lease for a new-construction space on State Road 54 in Odessa; the projected opening is late 2020. In an industrial, relaxed environment, each restaurant will feature meals of made-to-order tenders served grilled, breaded or sauced. No matter how you get them, they come with crinkle-cut fries, Texas toast and house dip. Also look forward to sandwiches, wraps and salads. Founded in 2004 in greater Orlando with 12 locations across Florida and one in Georgia, Huey Magoo’s has additional restaurants planned for Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. hueymagoos.com.