By Eric Newill
CLOCWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Salsa Fiesta; Mercadito’s tacos carnitas; The Lime outpost on Alton Road; Tacontento’s flautas
Oddly, Miami seems to have just discovered Mexican food. I don’t know if it’s because our abundance of Peruvian, Brazilian, Argentine and—of course—trademark Cuban cuisines have shunted it a bit to the side, or because the Gulf of Mexico just separates Florida from that country a mite too much. (After all, Texas and California seem to have invented the concept in the States, and they’re direct neighbors.)
In any case, Mexican cuisine has now hit Miami with the vengeance of an Aztec god, and people are hawking flautas, shilling tacos and peddling enchiladas everywhere. Lime (limefreshmexicangrill.com) was early on the scene in South Beach (and today has a bevy of outposts, including at The Shops at Midtown), serving refreshingly light fare that contrasted with the beloved institution San Loco (now T-Mex—t-mex.net—whose tacos I still adore). Meanwhile, around the corner in Midtown is a symbol of a new breed of haute Mexican style, Mercadito (mercaditorestaurants.com), a swank, orange-hued jewel box of a place serving such delicacies as guajillomarinated whole snapper and chile ancho-rubbed pork tacos.
Also on the upmarket front is Tacontento (tacontento.com), a whimsy-laden gem behind Lincoln Road on South Beach whose name—a play on “taco” and the phrase esta contento (“to be happy”)—symbolizes the festive mood here. I love dining on the handmade tortillas and the house specialty, chicharron de queso (an unbelievable crispy cheese roll), with a signature cocktail like the Drunken Angels (Gran Centenario Rosangel tequila and pomegranate juice).
On the more fast ’n’ friendly side is Biscayne Boulevard’s Salsa Fiesta (salsafiestagrill.com), a lively, superquick taco, tostada and fajita joint whose concept originated in Venezuela. The look isn’t much, but you can enjoy the Boulevard’s passing parade as you munch on your Hot Tamale burrito.
And then there’s the mystery of El Scorpion (35 NE 40th St., Miami), Zach Chodorow’s Mexican gambit that is moving to Jonathan Eismann’s old Pacific Time space in the Design District, with Eismann tweaking the menu with his studied flair. I liked its embryonic location on Washington Avenue, so we’ll see how the new setting and tastes work together.
Finally, spanning haute to comfy, we can’t forget the splendid national sensation Rosa Mexicano (rosamexicano.com), which has been drawing guacamole lovers to Mary Brickell Village for years and is soon poised to open another location on Lincoln, and our old favorite, El Rancho Grande (elranchograndemexicanrestaurant.com), which arguably serves the best poblano mole sauce in town. Viva México!