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.
This Mexican cantina nestled in the heart of Jacksonville Beach offers up authentic Mexican entrées in a casual, relaxed environment. Big-screen TVs dot the four corners of the dining area as well as the bar, and simple hacienda-style fare like steak and shrimp fajitas, bean burritos and enchiladas fit the motif nicely. The exterior patio is one of the largest outdoor eatery spaces at the beach and can be enjoyed year round. Servers are friendly and very knowledgeable about the cuisine, and the bar is a nighttime hotspot for locals to chat, catch a game or enjoy their meal. The margaritas are among the best in Jacksonville, and bartenders don’t skimp on the tequila.
The chefs at Tequila’s Mexican Restaurant sling a sizzling menu of fajitas and fish tacos alongside guacamole, chips, and salsa that are made fresh daily. Patrons can take a peek into a whale’s refrigerator with an order of ceviche acapulco ($7.99), where fresh shrimp marinates in lime juice with tomatoes and onions. Tortilla-chip detectives easily see through the avocado’s clever disguise as guacamole dip ($3.50 for small, $6.49 for large), although teeth might request numerous bites of the vegetarian fajitas to confirm the tasty presence of sautéed onions, zucchini, and bell peppers ($8.99). The filete relleno entree ($11.99) culls ingredients from the sea, the field, and the rare dairy flower, presenting a grilled filet of mahi mahi topped with spinach, pico de gallo, and cheese sauce.