Chef Pedro Ramirez can often be seen hovering over a crackling spit, tending to the pig that roasts over its flame in the open air. When the bounty is finished cooking, Ramirez whips it up into pork sandwiches and platters—a Ramirez Restaurant specialty for nearly two decades. A retired US Navy Chief, Ramirez now leads his kitchen staff as they craft fresh ingredients into authentic Cuban, Mexican, and Puerto Rican dishes infused with homemade spices akin to the ones used by Ramirez's ancestors from Santo Domingo. In the dining room, designed in the style of a beach bungalow, Latin paintings hang over tables topped with homemade sangria and margaritas, and an outdoor patio supports the tropical atmosphere with flags and strands of lights as powerful as a billionth of a sun.
Over the last century, many traditional Mexican dishes have found a comfortable home in American kitchens, from nachos covered in savory toppings to enchiladas and many variations of tacos. Luckily, when visiting El Porto Mexican Restaurant, guests don’t have to choose one of their favorite Mexican dishes over another. Instead they mix and match the shop’s combination dinners. Chefs pair tacos filled with carne asada, marinated pork loin, or fish with enchiladas, chalupas, and chili rellenos.
Chefs even create pairings specially designed for vegetarians, subbing in mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach for the traditional meats of their dishes. The one thing that doesn’t come with these pairings is desserts, and options range from caramel-kissed flan to deep-fried tortillas filled with bananas, honey, strawberries, and whipped cream like the blimp in a great dream.
Dubbed “gourmet Mexicana,” this upscale eatery in the heart of the St. Johns Town Center shopping mecca on the Southside offers an eclectic mix of traditional Mexican dishes with a fine dining slant, thanks to recessed lighting, white tablecloths and oversized black leather booths. Diners will find a variety of familiar entrées, from chicken enchiladas smothered in a tantalizing sour cream poblano drizzle, to pan-seared mahi-mahi fish tacos with chipotle aïoli, both served with Mexican rice and beans. Shrimp flautas are also available, though they’re not always listed on the menu. Tableside guacamole and chili con queso are local favorites, served with warm homemade corn tortilla chips and two different salsas: a traditional mild and a spicy tomatillo version. The Mexican apple pie wraps up a casual yet elegant dining experience at Cantina Laredo.
Burrito Gallery, hidden away in the center of downtown Jacksonville, is a unique and casual hot spot for Mexican favorites like burritos, tacos and quesadillas. Far from the usual carne asada or ground beef, customers can swing for something much more unique, like ginger teriyaki tofu tacos, which are grilled to perfection inside flour tortillas and topped with slaw. Other dishes, like Paul’s Extreme Nachos, play on the eatery’s fun side – though beer, wine and full liquor bar certainly help. The small restaurant is simplistically styled, with red tiled floors, light oak tables and local art featured across the walls. A Day of the Dead-themed mural shows off colorfully-painted skulls, while music plays loud enough for eaters on the back patio to hear.