I guess I was just about the only one who actually really liked the old Señor T’s, the original Mexican concept restaurant opened by owner Tom Reynolds in Nov. 2015 in the former location of Romano’s Macaroni Grill on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., next to Chili’s Grill & Bar.
Even though Señor T’s closed only nine months or so later (in Aug. 2016), I was kind of addicted to the unique mahi-mahi fajitas. Few people in our area believed that Reynolds shut down to revamp, but revamp he did, and on October 25 of last year, Reynolds and an all-new crew brought in by Carol Daniel and Dennis Borders of Chicago-based Levy Restaurants opened the new Vuelo Mexican Grill.
Reynolds and company are hoping that the now-four-month-old Vuelo, which means “flight” in Spanish, will take flight in New Tampa. Daniel and Borders brought in celebrity chef consultant Mark Estee — a former James Beard award semifinalist for “Best Chef in the West” for his Campo restaurant in Reno, NV — to completely overhaul the menu, and award-winning Reno-based architect Larry Henry to improve the interior.
Since then, Reynolds has hired new general manager and head chef Michael Lopez, fresh off a three-year stint as the food and beverage director at Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club in Dade City, to maintain quality control in the kitchen and to also make sure the “front of the house” runs smoothly.
Estee (who appeared on a recent episode of WCNT-tv on YouTube) and Lopez have been working together to keep Vuelo as a “scratch kitchen” and Lopez says that about 90-percent of what comes out of the kitchen is made in-house. “Ultimately, we will be closer to 98 percent from scratch,” Lopez says. “The only things we won’t make are our own mayonnaise and our own breads, but all of our chips, salsas and entrées are made here.”
Speaking of salsas, one of the focal points for Vuelo is the new fresh salsa bar, which has about seven different salsas (from roasted maize verde to hot Tomas to mild Luis), plus fresh lemon, lime, cilantro and jalapeños to spice your salsa your way.
“And yes, chips and salsa are absolutely free at Vuelo,” says Reynolds, who took a lot of heat locally for charging for chips and salsa at Señor T’s. “We want to be a long-term player in New Tampa, so we know we have to keep our customers happy.”
And, that customer base is growing. Lopez says that, thanks in large part to advertising in the Neighborhood News. “We were absolutely slammed on Valentine’s Day,” he says. “I know we had some people who weren’t happy about their wait times, but we had more than 300 people in here on that Tuesday night.”
OK, So What About The Food?
All this talk about new people is great, but for most of us, what matters most at any new restaurant is the food and I have to say that I think Reynolds, Estee and Lopez are on to something.
My favorite dish at Vuelo is the bubbling filet mignon molcajete, which is served bubbling hot in a lava rock bowl with chunks of tender filet, potatoes and sautéed veggies and a deliciously zesty peppercorn gravy. There’s also a seafood molcajete I can’t eat with shrimp, scallops and snapper. I may have to try it without the shrimp someday.
Lopez also is proud to announce that, due to customer demand, the sizzling asada platters the restaurant opened with have now been replaced by some absolutely excellent chicken, steak and shrimp fajitas, for just $15 or pick a combo of any two of those items for just $17. The chicken fajitas pictured above are thick slices of tender chicken breast with some of the best onions and peppers you’ll find anywhere and basted in and topped with a savory lime butter. Yum!
Also added to the menu since Vuelo opened are the Vuelo wings served in your choice of sauce — traditional fire hot, chipotle BBQ glaze or mojo Cubano. I haven’t sampled them yet, but you can bet I will…soon.
Other Vuelo favorites so far in our office include the trio of “street” tacos, available with pork carnitas, barbacoa beef, achiote chicken and our favorite, the fried or blackened fish. We also love the chicken quesadillas and the enchiladas. We haven’t yet sampled the burritos that Lopez says he will bring to this year’s Taste of New Tampa (see pages 34-39). Vuelo’s marketing director Suzanne Deveney says many Yelp reviews have called the burritos “the best in town.”
I really love Vuelo’s beautiful bar area, which is stocked with a wide variety of Mexican beers in bottles (try the Victoria beer), some of the world’s most famous tequilas and a nice selection of fresh fruit margaritas. Even the Casa ‘Ritas on the rocks are potent and absolutely delicious.
There are great specials almost every day, including five mini tacos for $5 Mon.-Fri., from opening til 6 p.m.; and one kid eats free every day 4 p.m.-6 p.m. (with each purchase of an adult entrée at full price). There’s DJ dance music on Vuelo’s covered patio on Taco Tuesday nights (when two tacos & a draft beer or Casarita cost just $6), and on Fajitarita Friday, you get a free Casa ‘Rita or glass of house wine with any fajita purchase. There’s also a great weekend brunch menu on Sat. & Sun., with bottomless mimosas or bloody Marys/Marias for only $10 per person. Brunch starts at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays.
“We get a nice crowd for UFC fights, too,” Lopez says with a smile.
Vuelo Mexican Grill is located at 17641 BBD and is open every day for lunch and dinner. For more information, call 972-4800 or visit VueloMexicanGrill.com.