The newcomer is not just another downtown Orlando taco bar. The food is fresher and more exciting than at Mucho Tequila and Tacos on the edge of Thornton Park and the restaurant has a similar college-town vibe as that of Gringos Locos on Washington Street.
A small L-shaped bar anchors one side of the room. My colleague Kelly Fitzpatrick will elaborate on the 244 tequila shots and other spirited options in an upcoming Calendar column. The mission of my recent visit was finding a quick, affordable lunch along the free downtown Lymmo bus route.
My lunch companions and I started with Chico's signature pineapple guacamole ($4.95). The acidity and sweetness of the freshly grilled pineapple gave the guac a nice tangy twist.
The "O-face" tamales ($5.95) were an open-face interpretation of a traditional corn tamale. The thick masa (cornmeal dough) provided a neutral bed for a layer of earthy red sauce, which was topped with a mango-laced picadillo, buttery fresh avocado, chopped sweet onion, fresh cilantro and a Mexican cilantro-lime crema. The crema had the nutty finish of a well-made crème fraiche. The ample dish, which is listed under the "Munchies" portion of the menu, is easily sharable for three or four guests.
For entrees, the dirty tacos ($7.95) were a must. Another signature item, the plate included two handmade soft corn tortillas filled with shredded roasted pork. A jalapeno pickled cabbage added crunch and flavor with a much-appreciated subtle note of heat. The pig was tender and juicy and needed no more adornment than that. Other fillings to choose from include mojo chicken, beer-braised short ribs, slow-cooked beef tongue, cumin spiced skirt steak, chimichurri portabello mushroom and a thick stew of ground beef and adobo.
The borracho ($9.95) was a nice surprise. At first glance the messiness of the dish detracts. But dig in to the mound of shredded citrus-marinated chicken and tender beef dressed in a mild taco sauce, with jalapenos (we asked them to go light on peppers and the kitchen did just that), pickled cabbage and rice and beans.
There are several entrée salads served up in crispy, fried tortilla shells. The barbacoa ($8.95) builds with mixed greens, grilled skirt steak, chopped vine-ripe tomatoes, a chipotle corn salsa, and classic charro beans. (Charro beans are pintos that are stewed with onion, garlic, bacon and other ingredients. The finished warm beans have a soupy consistency.) Drizzled with a chile barbecue ranch dressing, the barbacoa salad was quite filling and nicely balanced in texture. The Gringos salad ($7.95) with ground beef is a hearty choice as well.
Downtown Orlando may be at its limit for quick-service taco bars. The three we have are equally distinctive, but Chico's has set a new bar for the category.
See for yourself
Chico's Dirty Tacos & Tequila Bar
Where: 50 E. Central Ave., Suite D, Orlando (between Magnolia Avenue and South Court Avenue near the Orlando Public Library)
When: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday and Monday, 11-2 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 11-4 a.m. Thursday-Saturday
How much: $5.95-$11.95
Wines by the glass: $6-$7
Noise level: Lunch has a moderate buzz
Extras: Separate bar area, takeout and 244 tequila shots
Wheelchair access: Yes
Credit: All major
Online: Chicosdirtytacos.com and Facebook