Our ﬁrst-ever Top Tacos contest proved one thing: Even the power of social media couldn’t take down Tampa’s love of fresh seafood. Social-savvy foodies have fallen hard this year for quesabirria tacos — with their long strands of highly Instagrammable cheese and vibrant red broth for dipping — helping propel Catrinas’ version to one of the contest’s top spots. But in ﬁrst and third, respectively, Salt Shack on the Bay and Rene’s Mexican Kitchen embraced the seafood traditions shared by both our city and Central America to create tacos that are simultaneously classic and innovative.
FIRST PLACE —
SALT SHACK ON THE BAY’S FISH TACOS
On a menu full of fresh-from-the-Gulf seafood, Salt Shack on the Bay’s management team says the ﬁsh tacos have become a go-to order for the restaurant’s regulars. “At Salt Shack, we bring in such a great variety of fresh ﬁsh daily that we couldn’t resist complimenting the ‘boat-to-table’ fresh factor with a recipe that included our fresh avocado, cilantro and mango salsa,” they say. Salt Shack’s chef cuts fresh mahi for the tacos each day, and the house-made chili-horseradish sauce “brings the ﬂavors to a whole new level.”
SALT SHACK ON THE BAY
5415 W. Tyson Ave. | Tampa
813.444.4569 | salt-shack.com
SECOND PLACE —
CATRINAS TACOS AND TEQUILA’S QUESABIRRIA TACOS
Closer to a quesadilla than a traditional taco, quesabirrias are one of the year’s hottest culinary trends. The tacos are typically made with goat meat in Mexico, but most American restaurants have chosen some sort of beef blend (Catrinas went with chuck) with onion and cilantro on top of cheese-covered tortillas. Arguably the most important part of the birria experience is the consommé, or broth, served alongside the tacos as a meaty, salty dip. With the way quesabirrias are ﬂying out the door, Catrinas owner KJ Ortiz has no plans to say goodbye to the tacos anytime soon.
CATRINAS TACOS AND TEQUILA
1611 N. Howard Ave. | Tampa
813.898.8628 | catrinasgroup.com
THIRD PLACE —
RENE’S MEXICAN KITCHEN’S OCTOPUS, SHRIMP + CHICHARRÓN TACOS
Growing up in Mexico, chef Rene Valenzuela spent many weekends in the coastal city of Ensenada on the Baja California peninsula. The surrounding Sea of Cortez is the source of much of the region’s seafood and the inspiration for this taco. “The best octopus in the world comes from Portugal and Spain, and the second best comes from Mexico, specifically the Sea of Cortez,” Valenzuela says. He brings in his octopus from this region to keep the flavors authentic, pairing it with garlicky grilled shrimp, charred poblanos, melted cheese and crispy chicharrones (pork rinds). “The octopus is super tender and just melts in your mouth. The taste is almost sweet, with a hint of the aroma of the sea that just transports you to a different spot,” he says. “The chicharrón brings a huge kick of umami and a crunchy texture. It’s a rollercoaster experience of different surf-and-turf flavors for a combination knockout.”
RENE’S MEXICAN KITCHEN
4414 N. Nebraska Ave. | Tampa
813.500.2150 | renesmexicankitchen.com
HONORABLE MENTION —
LOLIS MEXICAN CRAVINGS’ TACOS AL PASTOR
Lolis’ pastor tacos recently got a massive — yet traditional — upgrade thanks to the addition of a trompo at the taqueria’s Temple Terrace location. The vertical spit is used to slowly roast the pork after it has been marinated in the lightly spicy achiote sauce. The result? Smoky, almost sweet shredded meat that is thin, soft and pairs perfectly with tart pineapple, onions and cilantro. While you can get tacos al pastor at any of Lolis four Tampa locations, the restaurant plans to continue rolling out the al trompo version in the coming months.
LOLIS MEXICAN CRAVINGS
Four Tampa locations