I joined the Florida bandwagon and visited my friend Colin for a long weekend. Colin lives in Lakeland, Florida which is about 45 min inland from Tampa. Colin had an awesome map and itinerary which included bicycling, hiking, paddleboarding, beach time, and tacos. Colin knows me very well, clearly! All of my favorite things crammed into 3 full days.
Colin scooped me up from the Tampa Airport Thursday evening and he picked out a waterfront beer garden called Sparkman Wharf for us to experience while in Tampa. Sparkman Warf has a variety of restaurants, shops, and street-food stands, a grassy area for games and doggies, and even a bowling alley. My eyes were set on the taco stand, Gallito Taqueria.
Colin had tried out the other Gallito Taqueria in Lakeland, but not this one. He enjoyed the duck taco that they had on the menu at one point. Now, I was to be the first of us two to try the Tampa spot. I asked the server behind the counter what her favorite tacos were here and she answered that the carne asada and al pastor were the most popular tacos, so I put an order in for one of each and the street corn (elote).
At first taco glance, they reminded me of Bakersfield tacos because of the 4.5 inch corn shells. Discovering this, I should have probably ordered one more taco. The first taco I tried was the carne asada taco. Crispy little nuggets of steak. I loved the onions and cilantro. The shells were a great touch (just selfishly wish they were bigger to hold more filling). My biggest complaint was that the taco needed more salsa verde to make up for the drier parts of the meat. I would give this carne asada a 3 out of 5. The carnitas taco was also a tad bit dry and a little too spicy for my liking. Not a very memorable taco, so I give it a 2 out of 5 on the scale.
Still hungry, I went in for the elote. The elote dish was heavy on the cotija cheese and packed with heat. To be honest, I was still hungry after the two tiny tacos, so I did my best to handle all the heat and cheese to get the most from the elote. I think the ratio would have been better if the corn was still on the cob versus loose kernels in a basket.
After our tacos in Tampa, we made our way to Lakeland to prepare for a full day of biking and tacos.
Price: $3.50 per taco. $6 for street corn dish.
Tapatio’s Restautante Mexicano
After 26 miles of bicycling on the Withlacoochee Trail, I craved tacos for a recovery meal. Colin and John picked out Tapatio’s Restaurante Mexicano for my second Florida taco spot. Man, have I come a long way from the teenage years where I wanted to eat at big chains like Outback, Hard Rock Cafe, and TGI Fridays when traveling. I am so glad I grew out of that phase!
Since John was on a time constraint and we were all starving from burning many calories, we ordered tacos for pickup in Lakeland. Tapatio’s is located in South Lakeland at 734 E. Memorial Blvd so we had to backtrack a little to pick up the food on the way back to Colin’s place.
It was well worth the 15-20 min detour. Once back at Colin’s, we chowed down on an order of 3 al pastor on corn shells, 3 carne asada on corn shells, and 3 grilled fish tacos on flour shells. We did a triple taco train transfer! Fun fact: I used to work at Kennywood as a ride operator at the Thunderbolt and when it was time to add trains to the track when the crowds picked up, we called it a triple train transfer. All 3 trains would be on the move on the tracks, just like all 3 tacos were on the move on our plates. This is one step above from a classic taco swap. Since 3 of the same tacos had to be ordered, we thought it would be wise to each order a different set.
Out of the 3, my favorite was the al pastor. The pork was tender and had that cinnamon flavor profile that I always dig when found in an al pastor taco. Simple, yet perfect. The pastor makes this taco and that is why it scored so high at 4 out of 5, even without the physical pineapple in the filling. My second favorite was the carne asada taco. This carne asada taco was loaded with meat, onions, and cilantro. Even with a fully loaded taco, the shell withstood. A solid carne asada coming in at a 3 out of 5, requesting just a little more marinade and flavor. My least favorite taco, as well as Colin and John’s least liked, was the fish taco. This taco was soggy and salty and I could not finish this one. I think if the fish was grilled longer, had custom toppings like a great crunchy slaw or a mango salsa, and was held in a toasty flour shell, this taco could improve. Unfortunately, this taco ranked a 1 out of 5 for us.
With a packed weekend, I was lucky to get in two travel taco spots. I am very fortunate to have a friend like Colin to take the time to show me around some beautiful and secluded parts of Florida. Colin already has some other taco places he wants me to try during my next visit. If I could choose only one of the two taco spots I tried to return to from this visit, it would be Tapatio. Despite the poor fish taco, I enjoyed the al pastor and carne asada tacos. If you are looking for more of an authentic taco vibe and budget friendly tacos, Tapatio’s would fit that criteria. If you wanted a slight upscale twist to authentic Mexican food, then Gallito’s Taqueria may be waiting for you in Florida… along with the paddleboards, bikes, gators, and beaches.
Price: 3 tacos for $8 excluding grilled shrimp or fish. Shrimp/fish tacos $9.50 for 3. Taco steals and deals!