EVEN THOUGH I’ll never try to convince you that Vallarta’s Mexican Restaurant, located in the City Plaza at Tampa Palms shopping center, is the best Mexican food you’ll ever eat, I do enjoy the food (especially at Vallarta’s reasonable prices), the service and the atmosphere at this local chain of family-owned eateries.
Because I’m the adventurous type, I always try to sample something new whenever I visit Vallarta’s, skipping only the shrimp dishes that I’m allergic to, and I keep finding new favorites to go with my old ones.
On my most recent visits, I first tried the semi-spicy steak a la Mexicana and although the thin rib eye steak is a fatty cut, the blend of onions, tomatoes and sliced jalapeños definitely make it a flavorful choice for me. There also are seven other non-fajita steak dishes on the menu, all under $15, unless you get a steak and shrimp combo. I can recommend the batter-dipped steak milanesa and the Vallarta’s special steak, topped with grilled tomatoes, onions and peppers.
Next, I tried the pork chunks with onions, or carnitas, and found what truly is now my new favorite dish at Vallarta’s.
The pork is obviously marinated and the chunks literally melt in your mouth. Pedro, the general manager, says that the chunks are made from pork leg or butt. All I can say is that I’ll be sampling this one again. For the same price ($13), you can add salsa roja (red) or verde (green), but these beauties don’t really need any sauce. The carnitas are totally tasty as is.
Vallarta’s no longer serves its fajitas sizzling on a metal dish, but they’re still pretty tasty and I prefer the chicken to the steak fajitas.
Starters at Vallarta’s include the cheese (queso) dip, guacamole Vallarta, a mushroom quesadilla and five varieties of nachos, so whether you like them just with cheese ($6) or the nachos Vallarta (with grilled steak, avocado, onions and cheese, $11), you’re sure to find one that suits your fancy — just bring plenty of friends, as the nacho orders are huge!
And although I can’t eat the Cocktel de Camarones (shrimp cocktail, $14) due to my shellfish allergy, I saw someone enjoying it the other day. The large shrimp are served “swimming” in a tasty hot sauce, in a gigantic margarita glass. I also enjoy the Mexican chicken soup, which was perfect for those cold days we had in March.
Jannah also recently found a new favorite, as she really enjoyed the chicken fajita salad, which also is available with beef or shrimp and served in a monstrous tortilla shell that is overstuffed with fajita chicken, plus grilled peppers and onions, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, pico de gallo, guac and cheese. It’s not served with dressing, but it honestly doesn’t need additional toppings, as Jannah ended up not needing to use her side of ranch dressing.
There also are plain grilled chicken dinners (pollo a la Parilla, $11) and a fried chicken breast (pollo Empanisado, $13).
And of course, Vallarta’s also has lunch and dinner-sized combinations of all of your Mexican favorites. So, whether you like hard or soft tacos, enchiladas, chalupas, burritos, tamales, tostadas, taquitos, flautas, chimichangas or tostaguac (I honestly don’t know what that last one is), you’re sure to find your favorites on this huge menu, with most lunch combos from $6-$9 and most dinner combos at around $10.
I’m not the biggest quesadilla fan, but they also are available for $8-$11 and the one I definitely will try in the future is the chicken, bacon and cheese variety.
Oh, and of course, even though I’m usually a chunky salsa kind of guy, Vallarta’s puréed salsa, served in wine carafes (you pour the salsa into a bowl for dipping), is highly addictive, especially with the restaurant’s fresh, hot, super-crisp tortilla chips.
Don’t Forget Cinco!
Another great thing about Vallarta’s is that it offers a full liquor bar with a variety of Mexican and domestic beers, a selection of top-shelf tequilas, as well as lots of margarita varieties that, according to the Vallarta’s menu, are “truly bigger than your head,” all at much lower prices than you’ll find at most sit-down Mexican eateries.
So, if you’re looking for a place to spend Saturday, May 5 — aka Cinco de Mayo — look no further. Vallarta’s will have music, food and drink specials and a big crowd for Cinco, although the place is crowded for dinner almost every day all year-round (and even many days at lunch time) and continues to receive lots of votes every year in our annual Reader Dining Survey & Contest. In other words, when you serve good food at very fair prices, people will keep coming back for more.
And, speaking of more, there also are Vallarta’s locations in the Wesley Chapel Village Market, one near the Suncoast Pkwy. off S.R. 54, one at Collier Pkwy. at 54, one on S.R. 54 in Trinity/Odessa, plus Temple Terrace and Carrollwood. The family that started Vallarta’s also opened a more upscale San José Mexican Restaurant on Land O’Lakes Blvd. (U.S. Hwy. 41 in Lutz), as well as the new El Pescador Mexican seafood restaurant in the New Tampa Center plaza on BBD Blvd. We plan to feature El Pescador in our next issue.
Vallarta’s of Tampa Palms is located at 16023 Tampa Palms Blvd. W. It is open every day for lunch and dinner. For more information, including some great regular coupon specials, visit VallartasRestaurants.com or call (813) 978-3761. The Wesley Chapel Vallarta’s is located at 5335 Village Market. For more info, call (813) 907-5161.