Must Eat Mexican Treats in St. Pete
If you search this site for “Mexican”, you may notice that I do all of the Mexican restaurant reviews. Why? It’s because I love Mexican food so much that I could literally eat it every day for a week straight. (I actually have done that before.) Two and a half decades ago when I traveled all over the country in sales, I would try a different Mexican restaurant in every town—going to a new town every day. Something else I’d like to mention is that I have been to Tijuana, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Zihuatanejo, and Cancun—although I’m not sure Cancun counts.
I mention my Mexico travels because it came up in the midst of discussions in our Facebook Group. I was asked if I ever went to Mexico because my iteration of “authentic” was being questioned. We learned something interesting while posting our Mexican restaurant reviews. The word “authentic” tends to trigger an avalanche of criticism and disagreement. It reminds me of the “Slowly I Turned” sketch – a popular vaudeville sketch wherein a character is relating a story and is triggered into violent outburst when the listener inadvertently utters a triggering phrase. – Wikipedia (My favorite is Abbott & Costello’s Niagara Falls.) To try to put the “authentic” issue to rest, I asked, what is authentic American food? There’s more than one style. Just look at all of the different types of barbecue for example. Just like there are different regions and styles in the US, the same goes for the United Mexican States.
Our friend Robert has been traveling around Mexico for a little over two years now, and when we were talking to him about Mexican food, he said, “There’s no such thing as Mexican food. There’s Oaxacan food, Tapatío (Jalisco), Yucatan, Sonoran food, etc.” If you go to Mexico and say you are looking for authentic Mexican food, no one will know what you are talking about.
It’s all REGIONAL FOOD. Most “Mexican” in the US is either Tex-Mex or Mexican-American food, and there are regional variations here too, which often cause debates to break out. Californians think they have the “best most authentic Mexican food”, but don’t tell that to a Texan because they really “know what the best Mexican food is.”
Ok, on to the list! THE LIST IS IN RANDOM ORDER.
10 Best Mexican Restaurants in St. Pete, FL for 2023
Chile Verde has been going strong for a little over five years now. The Tacos Mexicanos are done traditional Mexican-style with just meat, chopped onions, and cilantro. That’s it. The meat is well-seasoned and the tacos are delicious. The meat choices are steak, barbacoa (bbq beef), chicken, pork, tongue, tripe, and lamb.
You can see that it’s not fancy, served on a styrofoam plate, but it is tasty. They also have Tacos Americanos where you get the tomatoes, lettuce and cheese.
There is a small Mexican market inside with hot sauces, canned refried beans, chiles, tortillas, corn meal, etc.
Order at the counter, and the food is brought to your table.
Here’s another Mexican family using their recipes from home serving up the St. Pete area for 40-years. This one is quite traditional too. When they have Menudo on the menu, it’s a good sign. You can also tell that the salsas are made fresh every day.
Carmelita’s actually has five locations: Pinellas Park, Largo, St. Petersburg, Dunedin, and New Port Richey. They are all run by separate Mexican families, but with the same menu and recipes.
VIP on Treasure Island has somewhat of a cult following. It is a unique experience, and the two most important things you need to know are: 1. Go early. 2. Get the Beef Tamale. Although the tamale doesn’t look pretty in the above photo, it is so so good! This place is so small and so good that there is always a wait. We went at 5:00 pm on a weekday during slow season and had a 40-minute wait. You can’t be shy or claustrophobic here as it is so tight, you are right on top of each other and there is no such thing as a private conversation … yet there is a wait every night … for good reason. VIP also has a location in Indian Rocks Beach now.
Nueva Cantina has been rockin’ their special style of Mexican food for six years now. They have some more traditional items, and great fusion, like the Picadillo Tacos, and Tex-Mex, like their excellent Fajitas. Above, Modelo Marinated Chicken – Honey-lime Modelo marinated chicken served with Mexican rice, black bean corn salsa, salsa rojas, and fresh cilantro. The chicken is nice and juicy and the roja sauce gives a nice, sweet heat. It’s complex, rich, tender, and has a great depth of flavor.
Below, a more traditional item – Beef Enchiladas with black beans & rice. So many Mexican places taste all the same that you would think the beans and rice all came out of the same big shared can and box, but not these. They are fresh and delicious, and packed with flavor. The enchiladas are some of the best we’ve ever had.
TacoMiendo St Pete Mexican Restaurant
4747 66th St N
Kenneth City, FL 33709
There’s nothing elegant, no fusion, or frilly plating. It’s just darn good Mexican food made and served by Mexicans. There’s Tex-Mex too as most diners expect this when they go to a “Mexican” restaurant. Don’t be surprised if your server speaks better Spanish than English.
They are open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 10 am to 8:30 pm. Breakfast items are available all day. I went three times for lunch, once with a friend, and the other times solo.
Everything is made in-house. The Tinga empanada is shredded chicken in a tomato and chile sauce, and other ingredients. It was good, but instead of a wheat-flour based pastry shell it had a corn-based dough, which is a texture like a tamale, but fried. It’s quite tasty.
On my second visit I was in the mood for a big fat burrito packed with flavor, so I went with the “Mexican Sausage”, which is what they call Chorizo on the menu. It was a fiesta in my mouth. The flour tortilla was perfectly browned on the outside, and packed with sausage, cheese, lettuce and tomato on the inside. This burrito cures all hunger ills. They have great tacos too that I’m saving for the best tacos list.
The food is super delicious! All of the meats have great seasonings, and are bursting with flavor. All of the meats were also tender and juicy. The red sauce is nice and spicy. The corn tortillas are homemade. (They also have flour tortillas available, but they are not homemade.) Fast-casual, order at the counter, and it is brought to your table.
Red Mesa Cantina is one of the hot spots in downtown St. Pete coming up on 15-years. It is a fun, laid back space with a large outdoor courtyard with a fountain and whimsical décor. (There is indoor seating as well.) It’s located in the heart of downtown St. Pete and has a little bit of a party atmosphere. This is one of four (soon to be five) Red Mesa Group locations (each with their own unique menu), that serves traditional Mexican fare, such as tacos and burritos, but with a modern twist. They also put out their unique takes on other Latin cuisines.
Shown above: Pork Enchiladas – Shredded roast pork, tomato habanero sauce, Jack cheese, cilantro, onion and crema. Served with Cantina rice.
Chicken Taquitos – Fried rolled chicken taco, topped with chile arbol sauce, queso fresco, cilantro, onion and crema.
Seafood Mofongo – Sautéed shrimp, scallops, calamari, tomato, cilantro and poblano peppers and onions in tequila lime butter sauce. Served over mofongo; pork carnitas, sweet plantains and yuca mash.
Agave has been around for over 17-years, and is run by a Mexican family that brought their recipes from their homeland. Two of my most respected chefs in St. Pete both told me confidentially that they consider Agave to be the best in St. Pete. Their food is excellent and reminds me of what you might get at a good restaurant in Mexico outside of the tourist areas. It’s a small hole in the wall on St. Pete Beach. Parking is an issue, so if you’re not staying on the beach, you might want to spring for an Uber, as you should do anyway, if you want to enjoy imbibing on their tasty house margaritas.
I think their offerings are what most Americans grew up with as “Mexican food”. In Mexico, there’s no such thing as a crunchy taco, but those were the first tacos I ever had as a kid with ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes. (They offer soft tortillas too – both flour and corn.)
The ground beef is wonderfully seasoned to be extremely flavorful. The empanada meat is to die for. They don’t say so on the menu, but it is actually Cuban Picadillo. Super delicious!
Red Mesa Mercado is the Mexi-Cali Street Food that we all crave. It’s simple with a walk up window and an outdoor seating area reminiscent of a picnic area. When they first opened they had a small Mexican market inside, hence the name “Mercado”. Unfortunately, the market didn’t work out, so that space is indoor seating now. (At least I can still buy the excellent Red Mesa hot sauce at Cantina.) This location also houses a small tortilla factory where they make fresh tortillas every day to supply all Red Mesas, along with a handful of other St. Pete eateries. Even though the market is gone, you can still buy fresh tortillas here. Here’s the review and fast-action video of the tortilla factory in operation.
Red Mesa Restaurant was the first of the soon-to-be five locations, recently celebrating their 28th anniversary. All Red Mesas; Cantina, Restaurant, Mercado, and Quatro (food truck at Green bench Brewing) have the same ownership and same Executive Chef, Chris Fernandez. Chris was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico and he makes great Mexican food, but he also loves to mix it up with all kinds of fusions, mostly Mexican-Asian, but sometimes some Puerto Rican as well. Chef Chris is one of the most talented chefs in St. Pete, and likely one of the most humble with the lowest profile. All three Red Mesas have completely different menus and styles. Restaurant is a small, quiet family place with somewhat more upscale and creative dishes. They are known for their great sangrias, and the big news is that they recently added liquor. There is a new special every week that is always extremely enticing.
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The best locally owned Mexican restaurants in St. Petersburg Florida picked by locals.