Black Rooster Taqueria, the first of many highly anticipated restaurants slated to open in 2016, was the unquestionable "it spot" among the city's scenesters and eaters these past couple of months. Tables (handcrafted by chef-owner John Calloway, it should be noted) were hard to come by, as seemingly all of Mills 50 was licking their chops at the prospect of gorging on BRT's "farm to taco" cuisine, and justifiably so. Having worked with renowned chef-restaurateur Richard Sandoval for 10 years in various capacities from chef de cuisine to executive chef, Calloway is more than familiar with the flavors of authentic Mexican cookery.
He's traveled the world opening mod-Mex restos like Maya, La Sandia and Tamayo, but, lucky for us, he and his wife, Juliana, chose Orlando to put down roots. (Juliana grew up here.) Given their skill set and what they regard as an exciting and pivotal juncture in the city's culinary timeline, opening a rootsy neighborhood taqueria seemed like a no-brainer.
But this isn't your average taqueria, esé. Black Rooster's tacos are as fat as they are carefully and authentically constructed – bracing epazote in the vegetarian ($4) taco; pickled chile poblano and Oaxaca cheese in the beef-and-bacon asada ($4.50); and earthy achiote in a pork shoulder slow-roasted in a banana leaf ($3.75). PR's and Tijuana Flats this is not, even if the pork taco did require a dab of house-made habañero hot sauce to round it off.
I would like to have seen more than just one sope on the menu, but the meatball ($3) version of the popular antojito might be all they need. The meaty orb of beef and pork was poca madre, and the thick corn masa cake was resilient enough to hold toppings of pinto beans, cabbage, black mole, roasted peanuts and cilantro. If sides are desired, the subtly bitter cilantro-poblano rice ($3) may not suit all tastes, but herbaceous Colombian pinto beans ($4) cooked with pork shoulder likely will.
I didn't expect to see a kale salad ($8.50) on the menu, but it was one of the more texturally brilliant I've sampled anywhere, thanks to healthy additions of red radish, green cabbage, grapes, spicy pecans and queso fresco. One of my favorite items, however, is the meaty stew of beef achiote ($10.50). The hunk of beef shoulder just falls apart, and even better, the broth is essenced with Peruvian aji panca and orange. Sweet plantains couldn't have made a more perfect complement. A pumpkin-seed dip with tomatillo, blood orange and serrano peppers ($5) rivals the guacamole ($6) for dip supremacy here, though I much prefer the latter. Two desserts – the tres leches ($3.50) and the chocolate-chipotle flan ($3.50) – both leave the sort of lasting impressions desserts should leave.
The name, in case you're wondering, isn't an homage to the dark arts – rather, it stems from a childhood memory. Calloway's boyhood days spent on his grandfather's farm in Hudson Valley would inevitably commence with a crowing black rooster that held no regard for a young boy's desire to sleep in. But what started out as an object of scorn and derision soon became a fond remembrance, so much so that to Calloway, the black rooster now signifies great times and great food.
I'm sure patrons would agree.