As February draws to a close, so do a number of celebrations for Mexican culinary items. However, plenty of places remain to enjoy those meals.
Tuesday marked Margarita Day, which commemorated the tequila and lime juice cocktail, while Thursday celebrated Tortilla Chip Day, in recognition of the corn tortilla snack.
The Tampa Bay area even had its own minor holiday on Valentine’s Day, when landmark restaurant Taco Bus opened its second location on St. Petersburg’s historic Central Avenue.
Yet, there’s no reason to limit yourself to chain restaurants like Tijuana Flats, Chipotle and Moe’s Southwestern Grill to celebrate.
The Oracle suggests four true Mexican originals right here in the Tampa Bay area.
Mema’s Alaskan Tacos
Its namesake might be Alaska – the restaurant’s trademark taco recipe was created in the frigid state – but Mema’s Alaskan Tacos actually offers some of Tampa’s tastiest, most affordable Mexican meals.
The favorite is the $3 fish tacos with the meat and shell cooked together to give it all a uniquely juicy taste. More tacos, enchiladas and burritos can be added in combo choices all under $9.
Students who didn’t celebrate Tortilla Chip Day can also catch up with Mema’s numerous nacho noshes – all come with generous heaps of homemade refried black beans.
The restaurant’s downtown Ybor location at 1724 E. Eighth Ave. and 3 a.m. closing hours Thursday through Saturday make it an ideal weekend meal after a long night on the town.
Miguel’s Mexican Caf
Just outside of downtown Tampa is Miguel’s Mexican Caf at 3035 W. Kennedy Blvd., which doesn’t exactly have the most exotic fare but has plenty of familiar culinary staples done well.
Margaritas either on the rocks or frozen in lime, strawberry and mango varieties offer one big draw for the restaurant if you missed the holiday.
Miguel’s also has a plethora of nacho choices – $4.75 for bean and cheese and $7 for pork, chicken and beef – along with tamales, enchiladas and burritos.
You can even get brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., which ranges from huevos rancheros with hot flour tortillas to eggs benedict served with sliced steak and avocado.
Red Mesa Cantina
If you’re traveling in St. Petersburg, Red Mesa Cantina at 128 Third St. S. stands out for its diverse and delicious menu.
The cheapest offerings are tacos with fillings that span from $3.50 tamarind marinated tofu and grilled pineapple to $4.50 roasted duck and chile jelly.
Yet, the wide selection also boasts traditional Mexican torta sandwiches, plantain chorizo stuffed salmon and baked apple empanadas.
Red Mesa Cantina’s decor includes an outdoor courtyard to eat in and framed pictures of Mexican wrestlers, but late-night eaters should be warned that it’s downstairs from the weekend nightclub Push Ultra Lounge.
Perhaps the most popular Mexican eatery in Tampa – and now St. Petersburg – Taco Bus has offered traditional Mexican street food in stationary buses for a decade.
Owned by former Monterrey, Mexico resident Rene Valenzuela, the Tampa stand is particularly well-loved by college students for staying open 24 hours, and the St. Petersburg location will soon follow suit.
Though Taco Bus’ locations at 913 E. Hillsborough Ave. and 2324 Central Ave. offer $2.69 tacos, the fillings are good enough to warrant moving up to a $6 burrito.
Vegetarians can try flavorful grilled tofu and butternut squash, while carnivores can feast on grilled steak, beef tongue or pork slow-roasted in bitter orange and banana leaves. Then wash it down with a Jarritos strawberry soda.
Tampa Mexican Restaurants:
Mema’s Alaskan Tacos: 1724 E. Eighth Ave.; 813-242-8226
Miguel’s Mexican Caf: 3035 W. Kennedy Blvd.; 813-876-2587
Red Mesa Cantina: 128 Third St. S.; 727-896-8226 (TACO)
Taco Bus (St. Petersburg): 2324 Central Ave.; 813-232-5889
Taco Bus (Tampa): 913 E. Hillsborough Ave.; 813-232-5889