Kevin Godbee · Jan 10, 2018 · 9 min read
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, rather than Lori. 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.
Ok, on to the list! These ten Mexican restaurants are all so good, that this is NOT a ranking list. These are the 10 Best Mexican restaurants in the St. Pete area in ZIP CODE ORDER. It was impossible to rank them as they are all great, but also they are all different with their own unique styles that it's not a fair comparison for a contest. Solution: Try them all!
The 10 Best Mexican Restaurants in St. Pete, FL for 2018
(ZIP CODE ORDER - SEE ABOVE PARAGRAPH)
1. Red Mesa Cantina
"Cantina" (as we call 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. There is traditional Mexican restaurant fare, such as tacos and burritos, along with other favorite cuisine blends, such as the Sirloin Chorizo Burger—one of the best burgers in St. Pete. They also have the largest collection of tequilas and mezcal in the southeastern U.S. Recently, they took over the 2nd floor and rooftop, which used to be Push Ultra Lounge, and created two more unique spaces. Following are links to a couple of our reviews, and a feature on the new spaces.
Red Mesa Cantina
128 3rd St South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
2. Nueva Cantina
"Nueva" (as we call it, so as not to get confused with Red Mesa) is not what anyone would call authentic... but who cares? It's awesome! Some of their items, such as the tacos pictured above, along with enchiladas, quesadillas, and tostadas, are a little more traditional, and others are really delectable, Mexican-Cuban, Mexican-Italian fusions. For example, there's the Beef Picadillo Taco (Mexican-Cuban), and the Pollo Milanese (Mexican-Italian)—both of which are excellent! Also, get anything that has the Mole sauce. It is out of this world, not totally traditional, but super delicious. Make sure to order the guacamole as it's made fresh table side. Here are a couple of our full reviews.
1625 4th St South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
3. Red Mesa Restaurant
Red Mesa Restaurant was the first of the three, opening over 20-years ago. All Red Mesa's; Cantina, Restaurant, and Mercado 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 do not have liquor, like Cantina, but they do have some great sangrias. There is a new special every week that is always extremely enticing. Check out the review to see some of the eclectic Mexican-Asian fusion items.
Red Mesa Restaurant
4912 4th St North
St. Petersburg, FL 33703
4. Red Mesa Mercado
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 Mercado
1100 1st Ave North
St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Agave has been around for over 12-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 most authentic 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.
6400 Gulf Blvd.
St Pete Beach, FL 33706
6. VIP Mexican Restaurant & Lounge
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 Mexican Restaurant & Lounge
10625 Gulf Blvd
Treasure Island, FL 33706
Here's another Mexican family using their recipes from home serving up the St. Pete area for 34-years. This one is quite authentic 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.
5211 Park St North
St. Petersburg, FL 33709
8. El Toro Negro
This is another one that is a small hole in the wall, owned and run by a Mexican family, and quite authentic. Everything is fresh and homemade.
El Toro Negro
5780 54th Ave N
Kenneth City, FL 33709
9. Mexico Lindo
Mexico Lindo is a little place behind a Mexican grocery. It's another small, and authentic place run by Mexicans for Mexicans. The tacos are excellent.
6050 Park Blvd N
Pinellas Park, FL 33781
10. El Huarache Veloz
El Huarache is the real deal. It's a small place with only seven tables, and they are here to feed the blue-collar Mexican workers in the neighborhood. This is the food you would likely get if you went to someone's house in Mexico. Aside from me, every patron was Mexican, and speaking Spanish. The menu is even in English and Spanish. They open early at 10 am, but they also close early at 8 pm, so keep that in mind when planning your visit.
El Huarache Veloz
7100 49th St N, Pinellas Park, FL 33781
UPDATE FEBRUARY 20, 2018.
After receiving feedback that we did a grave injustice by not including Casita Taqueria, we paid them a fresh visit and add them here as a +1 to the list. Casita Taqueria Review
Chile Verde is a new place that recently opened in a converted gas station, and they have had an avalanche of great reviews on social media.
Chile Verde Authentic Mexican Food
2801 22nd Ave North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33713
NuMex Chile - not Mexican, but New Mexico cuisine, as in the southwestern state. If you like Mexican, you should like this, and it's a nice change-up.
2710 Central Ave
St. Petersburg, Florida 33712
The Grateful Taco on St. Pete Beach is still in the works from last year, and should be opening in the spring of 2018.
The Grateful Taco
5955 Gulf Winds Drive
St. Pete Beach, Florida 33706
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