Eat this now: Nopales salad at Zona Fresca


  • Holly V. Kapherr
It's not often that a salad can make me swoon, but this one, the grilled nopales salad from Zona Fresca in Winter Park, made this soggy Thursday just a little bit brighter.

Zona Fresca, the South Florida-based taqueria serving up Baja-style tacos, burritos, quesadillas and other Mexican munchies, opened a couple of months ago in the Ravaudage marketplace (alongside Miller's Ale House and TR Fire Grill). Don't go in expecting hurried service and cramped quarters. It's super laid-back and there's room enough to salsa dance if the mood strikes.

But back to that salad.

The restaurant deserves major applause for the appropriate ratio of lettuce shreds (which are really just filler, let's be honest) to actual vegetables — big pieces of cucumber, tomatoes, onion, avocado — as well as the star of the plate, the nopales.

Nopales are a traditional Mexican ingredient you don't see too much around these parts. They're the pads of the prickly pear cactus, and when they're sliced and grilled, they make a lovely, tender, smoky addition to a veggie-centric plate.

A little smattering of tomatillo salsa and a couple of spicy pickled carrots and jalapeños and you're in business, friends.

You can go full vegetarian, or add chicken, shrimp or steak. The steak ($3.79 extra) is a perfect complement — a decent cut of skirt or flank, from what I could tell, sliced into a generous portion — since the char from the steak mirrors and amplifies the grilled nopales.

Score one for $5.95, and even with the added steak, you're still under our magic number of $10 for a killer lunch.

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