“How many more?”
These were the only words our server uttered upon returning to the table at Tacos Flacos, a joint nestled in a Palm Harbor strip mall, hilariously, next to an LA Fitness. No mindless chatter, no awkward "Are we filling up yet?"
His face was frozen in a straight line, a judgment-free emoji completely void of empty food service platitudes. This was a space of solemn understanding.
Just: "How many more?"
It was Taco Tuesday, our weekly date-night sojourn to find meaning in tortillas. We realized fairly early in our relationship that we both had a serious taco problem, because any time "What do you want to eat?" came up, the potential solution involved spicy meats and a masa shell.
Lest we start to resemble burritos ourselves, we figured the best practice was to seek out this meaty treat just once a week. On Taco Tuesday.
The concept of Taco Tuesday, of course, is nothing new, nor is it challenging to understand. People like things alliterative. (Throwback Thursday! Man Crush Monday!) Taco Tuesday is a pop culture staple at this point. Take, for example, when President Business uses free tacos to distract the citizenry in The Lego Movie: "Let's take extra care to follow the instructions or you'll be put to sleep, and don't forget Taco Tuesday's coming next week." Such a tactic might work for us!
Taco restaurants have been capitalizing on this for some time, offering door-buster taco deals on Tuesdays. Some have started taking advantage of society's taco lust on other days of the week. Lime Fresh Mexican Grill does a "WTF" deal, with $2 tacos and two-for-one drinks on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Deals are cool and all, but our approach to Taco Tuesday is not about finding the most tacos for the best price. Well, not always.
Conversely, it's not about finding the absolute best, most gourmet taco in town. How many $4.95 Red Mesa Cantina duck confit tacos with goat cheese can one person manage?
Taco Tuesday is an adventure quest. It's a journey through Middle Week to destroy the One Ring of Boredom. It's a chance to do something slightly exciting with someone you love in the middle of the week, a time that can seem laden with routine drudgery. Tacos happen to be what we like, but you can tailor this experience to your own palate. French Fry Fridays! Sundae Sundays!
On the Tuesday nights we can't get out, we often make tacos at home. If Tuesday's a non-option because, say, some people we thought were our true friends are having their engagement party at an Italian restaurant, we'll do Taco Monday. Or Saturday. Or whatever day. For Halloween, we dressed like tacos and nachos.
We will not be denied tacos.
We've dined at dozens of Tampa Bay taco joints, from the omnipresent Taco Bus to places we'd rather never speak of again, savoring everything from authentic Mexican fare with cilantro and onions to Americanized crispy shells with big dollops of sour cream (we love both, for the record). A few things keep us coming back: free chips and salsa, prices that stay in the single digits and house-made hot sauce — although there is absolutely nothing wrong with a stolid bottle of Cholula.
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The other thing is a little less technical. We like places that feel a smidge adventurous, maybe not the prettiest or most popular place in town. These are the corners of life where the taco magic happens.
By the way, when your server asks, “How many more?” the appropriate answer is always, “Two, please.” And some more chips. And another round of margaritas.
TACOS FLACOS & CANTINA
A co-worker suggested Tacos Flacos with a gleam in her eye that was borderline explosive. “They have two-for-one margaritas!” she said, and so we went immediately after work. Chicken or beef tacos are 99 cents on Tuesdays, in a hard or soft shell overflowing with lettuce and cheese. They come to the table within minutes of your order. Chips are unlimited and service is friendly and to-the-point. (See: “How many more?”) But back to those margaritas. When we tried to order the traditional kind, our server slyly mentioned that the frozen margs were stronger. He even brought us a sample in a shot glass to prove it. He was not wrong. Hic.
35114 U.S. N, Palm Harbor, (727) 781-7112.
Senor Taco is attached to a tiny, unglamorous motel in Pinellas Park, but don’t let the presentation stop you. It’s clean and bright inside, and bustling on a Tuesday at dinner. Senor Taco specializes in authentic Mexican food with a Mayan flair (the owner is from Yucatan). Their signature is the “cochinita pibil,” or Mayan barbecue, shredded pork slow-roasted with sour orange and achiote. Taco Tuesday brings $1 beef tacos in soft shells with onions and cilantro, but if you want to upgrade meats, it’s still only about $2 per taco. They only offer one free chip basket, a Taco Tuesday cardinal sin. But when we get out the door full of slow-cooked meats for less than $20, we can let it slide.
6447 Park Blvd., Suite 1, Pinellas Park, (727) 289-7080. senortacomexicanrestaurant.com
EL HUARACHE AZTECA
We live in Dunedin, so naturally we frequent downtown’s famous Casa Tina (always wishing they’ll one day ease up on the one-free-chip-basket policy). But this town is full of competitive taco options, including an outpost of the Carmelita’s Mexican Grill & Cantina chain and the recently opened Casa Mama Lolita. (The owner will talk to you for an hour about different styles of Mexican food.) Head toward Honeymoon Island for El Huarache Azteca No. 2 (yes, there are several), a no-fuss place with a nifty altar to the Virgin Mary and some of the tastiest sweet red enchilada sauce around. Locals, check your mailbox for coupons, which come more often than we can keep up with.
2020 Bayshore Blvd., Dunedin, (727) 330-7648.
VALLARTA’S MEXICAN RESTAURANT
We wandered in here on a rainy day and sat at the bar. A CrossFit competition was on the TV. The bartender plopped down a bowl of chips and salsa and we proceeded to crunch while watching people with quadriceps the size of kegs flip tractor tires. It was one of those perfect moments. Vallarta's has $1 tacos all day Monday and Tuesday, and happy "hour" for five hours every day from 2 to 7 p.m. We weren't really hungry that day, but we ordered chicken tacos anyway, and they were juicy and fresh.
716 W Lumsden Road, Brandon, (813) 684-4700.
LOLI’S MEXICAN CRAVINGS
To grasp the appeal of Loli’s, you need only glance at the bulletin board of messages scrawled on the back of receipts. “Best tacos in Tampa!” “The tamales are better than mi abuela’s!” “Oh snap! Best. Tacos. Ever.” If you’re looking for cocktails and a sexy night out, this is not the place. If you’re looking for a mouth-watering bite of chorizo with some sweet caramelized onions on the side, this is the place. It’s stripped down, counter-ordering, plastic cloths over just a few tables. Tacos are a la carte, between $1 and $3 each, rib-eye, shrimp, carnitas and more. There are several kinds of tortas and sopes, and tamales made only on weekends. The area even has a little bit of St. Pete on it, with Six Ten Brewing just down the street if you want a pint to go with your takeout.
8005 Benjamin Road, Tampa, (813) 886-7467, lolismexicancravings.com.