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Restaurant review: Fresh ingredients elevate the fare at D'Mexican

Guacamole with chips and salsa served at D’Mexican in St. Petersburg.
Guacamole with chips and salsa served at D’Mexican in St. Petersburg.
Published Oct. 14, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG

I fretted over the apostrophe. Not a student of Spanish, I still couldn't remember many apostrophes in the language, not even for possessives. So what did this mean: D'Mexican? Turns out, according to owners Manuel Trujillo, Juan Pablo Quevedo and Nelson Saldarriaga, the sign could only be so wide. They were going for the Mexican, a nod of sorts to the movie with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, but adopted a more expedient contraction.

D'Mexican opened in November 2014 in a nothing-special strip mall way out west on Central Avenue. Prior to that, the space had briefly been Old St. Pete Cafe and New York Cafe before that. It's a long, slightly narrow dining room with a bar, no outdoor tables. Simple tile floors, deep terra cotta-colored walls and the radio turned to lively Mexican hits, it's comfortable and casual. What makes it worth reviewing is the quality of ingredients.

Saldarriaga, who is in the kitchen, says he purchases produce at the Plant City Farm & Flea, meats he buys whole from Restaurant Depot and cuts them down. Nothing tastes frozen and there is a lightness of touch that is missing in a number of area Mexican restaurants. (Think molten cheese destroying ancient Pompeii.)

Let's start at the beginning. D'Mexican is beer-and-wine only, but there is a solid and fairly sweet red sangria served in a mason jar ($5 or $9 depending on the size, with some deep discounts during happy hour), as well as a wine-based margarita with fresh lime (also $5 and $9) that tastes 100 percent like the real deal. With these, order a basket of warm, thin, just-fried chips and a bowl of roasted tomato salsa ($2), its black flecks adding depth and smokiness. It's not fiery, with a texture smaller than a chop but chunkier than a puree. The house guacamole ($7.50, and it comes with chips and the salsa) may be my favorite dish, the clearly fresh avos tucked under a flurry of tomato, onion and cilantro. It has a nice limey kick and nuttiness from the fully ripe fruit.

Fajitas, always a party, are especially satisfying here: steak, chicken or portobello mushrooms offered separately ($15) or as a combination ($16); black tiger shrimp by themselves ($22) or in combination with steak or chicken ($20), or as all three of those together ($24); or carne asada ($16) on its own. However you do it, the proteins come sizzling with onions and peppers, and served with rice, beans, lettuce, sour cream, guacamole and warm corn tortillas. A dab of this, a scoop of that, maybe a squirt of hot sauce, then roll it up. The carne asada, deeply flavorful sirloin, tender and juicy, seems the top offering.

That said, the duo of housemade chile rellenos ($14, one is served at lunch for $7), stuffed with cheese and enrobed in a puffy, greaseless egg batter, is among the best I've had locally. You can have them ladled with a balanced but workhorse red sauce topped with cotija cheese, or a slightly more interesting green sauce, with simple rice and plush refried beans on the side.

When you've done your darndest and your helpful server (probably Tina) has boxed what you couldn't manage, there is but one choice: churros ($6). Made in house, a pair of piped dough lines is fried, tossed heavily in cinnamon sugar and then squiggled with a caramel sauce. One visit, the centers were just a wee bit squidgy-undercooked, but another night they were dreamy, crisp-crusted and pillowy interiored. A perfect cake doughnut, only a little more D'Mexican.

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

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