Recently, we posed a question to the newsroom at the Tampa Bay Times: “What are your favorite spots for tacos?”
What followed shouldn’t have come as any surprise: People have a lot of strong opinions when it comes to tacos.
“There’s great places for tacos here?” one reporter asked, mockingly. “What rock have I been living under?”
Ouch. Although the Tampa Bay area’s taco scene has grown exponentially over the past few years, it’s a fair point. A lot of the tacos we’ve come across lately here take a pretty liberal approach to the genre.
For this list, we sought to include a wide selection of both traditional and new-school versions. Taco purists will scoff at the inclusion of places that throw in Brussels sprouts and creme fraiche, but many of these places can satisfy those hankerings for a taco fix.
Think of the spots that follow more as a fun exploration of the genre than a definitive list with strict parameters. And feel free to get in touch and let us know what your favorite spots are. After all, the taco frenzy in Tampa Bay doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
Street tacos rule the day at this quaint Mexican restaurant and grocery store. Traditionally topped with cilantro and onion, they’re built upon your choice of one of 13 proteins, from al pastor to lengua (beef tongue). Acapulco does a taco for the vegetarian crowd, too; it’s filled with rice, beans, lettuce, sour cream and cotija cheese alongside that simple onion-cilantro combo. 1001 N MacDill Ave., Tampa. (813) 873-3665. acapulcotacos.net.
The Hyde Park Village hot spot sports a number of creative taco medleys, and all at a pretty affordable price. (Most fall between $2.50 to $3.50.) For seafood fans, the Baja-style fish tacos served with a chipotle slaw are a good choice, as are the crispy-fried oysters topped with creamy remoulade. The menu also includes several options for veggie lovers, from the Brussels sprouts topped with spicy carrot puree and a honey chipotle glaze to the portobello mushroom tacos topped with queso fresco, roasted poblano peppers and garlic. Those looking for a healthy twist can order their taco on a lettuce shell for an extra 25 cents. 1601 W Snow Ave., Tampa. (813) 258-8226. bartaco.com.
The American-style tacos, which are served on either crispy corn shells or soft tortillas, come filled with a choice of beef, chicken, bean or cactus and are topped with shredded lettuce, cheese and sour cream. For a more Mexican take, the Guadalajara-style tacos come on soft corn tortillas and are topped with the traditional mix of diced white onions and cilantro, and a choice of three different hot sauces. Fillings include panela (a type of grilled Mexican cheese), chorizo, carne asada, pork, chicken or rajas (creamy poblano peppers). 365 Main St., Dunedin. (727) 734-9226. casatinas.com.
Sure there are bowls, tortas and burritos to choose from. But the real tour de force at this casual Mexican restaurant with three St. Petersburg locations are the hefty tacos, all served on thick, homemade corn tortillas with a variety of sauces, including a sweet hot honey elixir. The toppings are mostly traditional with a Southern California twist. (Think fried cod topped with shredded cabbage, pineapple salsa, crema and cilantro.) Here you’ll find standards like carne asada topped with grilled onions, Oaxaca cheese, salsa and cilantro as well as roasted garlic shrimp tacos with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo and chipotle mayo. 2663 Central Ave., 2991 66th St. N or 2701 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. casitatacos.com.
Catrinas Tacos and Tequila Bar
Co-owner Karol Ortiz’s popular restaurant has reopened as a counter-service joint in West Tampa with Mexican street tacos from co-owner and executive chef Tisbeth Mejia. Served a la carte, options include carne asada, portobello, Baja fish and shrimp. 1611 N Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 898-8628. catrinasgroup.com.
Chicken & Taco Loco
No matter if you dine at the food truck that first made this Brandon spot popular or its new full-service restaurant, memorable street-style tacos abound. The carnitas and barbacoa pack some massive flavor, as does the hibiscus flower — a dreamy, just-as-meaty-as-the-real-deal vegetarian option not offered at other Mexican eateries in town. 535 E Brandon Blvd. (food truck) or 716 W Lumsden Road (restaurant), Brandon. chickentacoloco.com.
There’s a hotline with Indian curries and a menu of burritos, chimichangas and quesadillas to choose from. But the simple street tacos are the way to go at this restaurant tucked inside a decommissioned St. Petersburg gas station. Served on corn tortillas, options range from spit-grilled pork al pastor to lengua and pork carnitas. Order them “Mexican” and they’ll arrive topped with a classic medley of diced white onions, cilantro and lime. The American version comes with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and avocado. 2801 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 800-2679.
Expect a highbrow, creative approach to tacos at this Sparkman Wharf spot from Rooster & the Till’s Ferrell Alvarez and Ty Rodriguez. Tacos, which are all $4, include the al pastor made with pork belly and topped with charred pineapple, crema and roasted onions. Duck carnitas are served with a salsa negra and topped with maduros and a drizzle of lime crema. 615 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 345-5881. gallitotampa.com.
La Fiesta Mexican Store
Head to the back, past the chip displays and the cooler of ice pops, for the restaurant side of this Mexican grocery store. La Fiesta offers a small but uniquely Tampa Bay dining experience, serving up tacos like steak, chicken and pork garnished with onion and cilantro to tables stationed among 2-liter bottles of soda and other products. 1202 S 22nd St., Tampa. (813) 241-2477. afiestamexicanstore.business.site.
Lolis Mexican Cravings
Here’s another well-liked taqueria churning out a good-sized lineup of tempting tacos at its three locations in Tampa. Options include ribeye, shrimp, chorizo, lengua and chicharron (!). Best of luck ordering just one. 10011 W Hillsborough Ave., 8005 Benjamin Road or 3324 W Gandy Blvd., Tampa. lolismexicancravings.com.
With locations in Clearwater and Pinellas Park, the street tacos served at this no-frills market are the real deal, with fillings ranging from the more traditional steak, carnitas and chicken to the less easy-to-find buche (pork stomach), cuerito (pork skin) and oreja (pig’s ear) tacos. 6050 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park. (727) 548-8721. 812 Court St., Clearwater. (727) 443-5892.
Miguelitos Taqueria Y Tequilas
One of the more sophisticated joints on our list slings both street-style and specialty taco platters. Your options on the specialty end include surf and turf, portobello and pork belly, while offerings such as pollo verde and barbacoa drive the street-style variety. Pair them with a margarita — or a tequila shot on tap. 2702 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 872-5600. miguelitostampa.com.
Launched in 2016 along Fourth Street S in St. Petersburg, this spot is hard to miss from the road. There’s a colorful mural on the building, and inside it’s just as vibrant. Beyond its eclectic decor, Nueva Cantina is known for its generous margaritas and lunch, brunch and dinner menus that include a lineup of tacos ranging from beef picadillo to vegan to shrimp. 1625 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 851-9579.
Tacos are the namesake menu item of this quaint Mexican spot. They’re offered several ways — with lengua, shrimp, tripe and more — on corn and flour tortillas alike. You can also get your taco fix a la carte or in a combination plate. 435 E Brandon Blvd., Suite B, Brandon. (813) 481-1007. romistacos.com.
The Pinellas Park restaurant hawks Mexican fare “with a Mayan touch,” including the signature Yucatan-style cochinita pibil, featuring slow-roasted shredded pork with sour orange and achiote. Apart from a list of traditional tacos, all served on soft corn tortillas, a section of specialty tacos includes the Chori-Queso, filled with chorizo, melted cheese and served in a flour tortilla with onions, cilantro and salsa. The towering El-Tri features smoked ham, chorizo, bacon, onions and green peppers all loaded onto a flour tortilla topped with salsa, guacamole and sour cream. 6447 Park Blvd. N, No. 1, Pinellas Park. (727) 289-7080. senortacomexicanrestaurant.com.
Shaker & Peel
General Tso’s cauliflower, Korean barbecue beef and hot fried chicken might not seem like traditional taco fillings, but that’s because we’re in deep fusion territory here. Homemade tortillas serve as a traditional wrapper for a laundry list of unconventional taco accoutrements. For a Caribbean spin, the jerk chicken features pulled, spiced chicken, avocado, plantains and a dark rum aioli. Vegetarians will love the Flower Power, served on a light purple hibiscus corn tortilla filled with quinoa that’s been seasoned with cumin, chili powder and cayenne. 3159 Curlew Road, Oldsmar. (813) 475-4712. shakerandpeel.com.
The Ciccio Restaurant Group takes a healthy stab at tacos with a design-your-own assembly-line approach where diners can choose from either a grilled flour or corn tortilla or a bibb lettuce wrap. Fillings range from citrus chipotle chicken and lemon grilled shrimp to poblano tofu, mushroom and tofu chorizo and warm pinto or black beans. 2221 W Platt St., Tampa. (813) 314-7900. tacodirty.com.
Taqueria El Nopal
Bring your vegetarian friends to this blink-and-you-miss-it food cart parked on a busy stretch of Tampa. The nopales (cactus) taco, topped with the ubiquitous cilantro and onion, is a juicy, hearty treat. Omnivores should enjoy it, too, although they’ll be happy to find quite a few meat fillings from which to choose. 8305 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 679-8609.
The Plant City taqueria features a long list of traditional taco takes including beef tripe and pork belly and some more obscure versions, including the Alambre, filled with beef shish kebabs, bacon, onions and bell peppers, and the Chorizo De La Casa Con Queso, made with the restaurant’s homemade spicy chorizo sausage and melted cheese. 1302 W Reynolds St., Plant City. (813) 764-5291.
This local favorite with a welcoming vibe uses the build-your-own format to create its dishes, including the namesake menu item. Three types of tacos are up for grabs: Tijuana, Xtreme and Buffalo. They each feature their own signature mashup of ingredients on a house-made corn tortilla, plus your pick from more than 10 proteins. (Think carne asada or sriracha cauliflower.) 223 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 304-2639. xtremetacos.com.