Late last month I spent a week in Central Florida, in a mid-size town along I-4, just east of Tampa. I was there with my wife and son to visit family and kick back for vacation. I did little beyond play with my nephews and niece, chat with my aunts, my parents, my sisters and my 89-year-old grandmother. There was more than enough beer from Cigar City Brewing, out of Tampa, but not much Mexican food, never mind tacos.
The region where my parents live is predominantly Cuban and Puerto Rican. So, Cuban sandwiches, lechon and arroz con gandules were usually within a tortilla’s throw. Mexican food, the type beyond leaden, cumin power-punched Tex-Mex, has only begun to show up in small pockets in the last decade. Inland, luck plays a large role in securing noshes in corn tortillas. In Tampa lovers of comida from South of the Border have it a bit easier. The most famous is the Taco Bus. Another example is Acapulco Mexican Grocery & Taqueria. The five-year-old market and restaurant near MacDill Air Force Base is adjacent to Armenia where a collection of Mexican business have sprung up, was recommended by a local food writer as the one taqueria to hit in Tampa if there was no time for any others. And tucked behind shelves stocking Mexican and Caribbean market needs—everything from chile morita and piñatas to habichuelas roja and plantain chips and so much Goya!—Acapulco is fantastic.
While our counter waitress said the food was typical of Acapulco, the famed coastal town in Guerrero state, specifically the tacos dorados filled with chicken, there were no grilled seafood dishes, much less citrus-laced ceviches. What my lunch companions and I ordered that day were near stellar plates of tacos, huaraches, though the latter where almost perfectly round and not shaped like the sandals from which the snack gets its name, and a box of chilaquiles, a Friday-only special so outstanding any fault found in the tacos—and it existed—was negated by the breakfast food’s tart, bright salsa verde of tomatillos and jalapeños with an enveloping, prickly heat, by the tangy crema Mexicana, by its taut eggs, a comforter of yellow and white, by the day-old tortilla bits happily fried to the sweet spot between shatteringly crispy and wet, by queso fresco that imparted all the salt needed, and by the diced red onion that added further crunch. “This isn’t making it to the parking lot,” one of my lunchmates proclaimed of the dish originally meant for take-out. Indeed the chilaquiles didn’t. Our trio barely looked up or around until we were sated. When we did, a handful of tables were occupied by a mixed crowed of soldiers from nearby military installation, local workers and shoppers.
While the chilaquiles plate was the star, it wasn’t the only highlight. The tacos de carnitas, with wispy, crunchy strands and knots of pork fried in its own fat, had a touch of sweetness. The tinga de pollo was a straightforward preparation and by no means dry. It was, however, low on the chipotle. The tacos dorados de pollo done in the flauta style and garnished with refried beans, lettuce and queso cotija, were a delight, and the first thing I ordered. Falling short was the lengua. The beef tongue cubes were stony and bore a ruddy sheen. The handmade huarache was doughy but not tough. However, the tripe topping was tepid and spongy. Still, as already mentioned, these were minor low marks mitigated by the excellent chilaquiles, not to mention everything else we enjoyed.Acapulco Mexican Grocery & Taqueria 1001 N Macdill Ave. Tampa, FL 33607