By Gary Nager,
For those of us who have lived and/or worked in and around Tampa the last 10-20 years, the name “Vallarta’s Restaurante Mexicana” is synonymous with delicious Mexican cuisine at very fair prices. The family-owned “chain” of Tampa-area restaurants started with its first location, on N. 56th St. in Temple Terrace, in 1989, and today has successful restaurants under the Vallarta’s “umbrella” in Carrollwood, Town & Country, Land O’Lakes and in the Wesley Chapel Village Market off S.R. 54 at Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
But, the newest link in the Vallarta’s chain is probably the most ambitious for my buddy Fabian, who also owns the Wesley Chapel location. A little more than a month ago, Fabian opened his newest Vallarta’s in City Plaza at Tampa Palms, in the space most recently occupied by Ciccio’s Lodge, although this prime location next to Publix also has been home to The Lime, Winners Grill and the Boston Cooker.
In other words, it may seem like a great location, but some of the other restaurants in the space may have not been able to maintain their respective successes in the space because they couldn’t offer what Vallarta’s has been able to do to not only survive, but to thrive at all of its locations — offer the best possible value for your money. That means you shouldn’t bet against this popular Mexican restaurant ending up a long-term winner in Tampa Palms, too.
The newest Vallarta’s may also be the prettiest of the group, with a revamped tile bar with flat-screen TVs, full liquor, including frozen margaritas in a variety of flavors, premium tequilas and rums, ice cold Dos Equis, Modelo, Pacifico and other favorite imported and domestic beers on draft and in bottles.
And of course, most folks start their meal with Vallarta’s signature (and addictive) puréed salsa and homemade tortilla chips. I also can recommend the lighter-than-most cheese dip, the spicy Mexican chicken soup, huge nachos supreme and fresh pico de .
Lunch combos are hugely popular at all Vallarta’s locations, and cost only $5-$8, with only the steak or chicken fajitas lunch costing that much. Whether you like tacos, enchiladas, chalupas, chile rellenos, burritos, quesadillas or ehuevos Rancheros (ranch-style eggs), you can enjoy any combination of those items for as little as a fast food lunch Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
But, even at lunch (and certainly for dinner), I still prefer Vallarta’s more upscale steak, chicken and pork dishes. The carnitas (pork tips) are delicious and tender and you can even add red or green sauce.
The fajitas always come out sizzling and I usually enjoy a combination of beef (sliced flank steak) and chicken, although new sales and marketing assistant Antwon Gildon also raved about his fajitas Vallarta, which adds sizzling shrimp to the combo. And, if I could eat the shrimp, I would definitely try the ultimate fajita combo at Vallarta’s (certainly big enough for two), the Parrillada, which combines beef, chicken, pork, chorizo sausage and shrimp fajitas, with pico de gallo and all the sides.
But, I also love Vallarta’s ribeye steak choices, including the nicely spicy steak a la Mexicana, which is grilled with fresh jalapeños, tomatoes and onions and is my new favorite entrée at Vallarta’s, the batter-dipped steak Milanesas (although I don’t need the nacho cheese dipping sauce that comes with it), and the Vallarta’s special, which is like the steak Mexicana, without the jalapeños.
Vegetarians also have to be impressed with Valllarta’s vegetarian menu, which includes veggie fajitas, potato and bean burritos and a unique vegetarian combo — a burrito with squash, tomatoes, onions and jalapeños, plus one cheese enchilada, served with rice and beans.
And yes, all Vallarta’s locations offer an outstanding kids menu, with everything from hamburgers and hot dogs to tacos and enchiladas and all costing just $4.50, including a drink, for kids 12 and under. There’s even churros (like the ones sold at fairs, only better), fried ice cream and flan for dessert.
The new Vallarta’s (16023 Tampa Palms Blvd.) is open every day for lunch and dinner. Happy hour is every day, 2 p.m.-7 p.m. For more info, call 978-3761, visit VallartasTampa.com or see the ad on page for great coupon specials. For Wesley Chapel (5335 Village Market), call 907-5161.