There's an undeniable familiarity about walking into Cilantro's Taqueria on South Bumby Avenue – the string lights, the words printed on black slate, the wood accents, the vibrant colors throughout. It took but a few seconds for us to recognize the similarities between it and one of the better taco joints in town – Black Rooster Taqueria.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose Black Rooster's John and Juliana Calloway should be flattered. Eduardo Hinojosa, who once ran Margarita's Grill on Chickasaw Trail, is behind the Hourglass District operation, and the neighborhood should consider themselves fortunate to have not one but, come later this summer, two fine taco joints within feet of each other. When Tamale & Co. opens literally around the corner this August, it should make for some interesting competition, and competition will only push Hinojosa and his capable staff to greater heights.
Not that their current offerings are subpar by any means. Biting into spicy elote ($3) or scooping up creamy guac ($3) with house-made chips are positive indicators, so by the time you're stuffing a burrito ($6.50) of carnitas, rice, beans and salsa into your boca, you're convinced there's more gratification coming your way. "Oh, you have to try our green salsa," said one of the kindly gents in the prep area, and it's a suggestion we took again and again. There's a slightly spicier, if oddly flavored, salsa roja offered, but the verde was the hot sauce of choice for the cheesy-good carne asada burrito ($6.50), as well as the slew of tacos we ordered.
The al pastor ($3), unfortunately, didn't come with any pineapple, but burnt sweetness aside, it dawned on me that I had yet to come across a taqueria offering al pastor off the trompo – or vertical spit – as is customary in Mexico City. Hinojosa told me that offering pork (as opposed to lamb, chicken or beef) cooked on a vertical spit was against code, and it's also the reason, he says, he doesn't offer pineapple: "It doesn't taste the same when it's cooked on a griddle." No doubt. The Calloways say it's more about the requirement for pork to be maintained at a temperature of 150-155°F, which would actually reduce the quality of the al pastor. Whatever the reason, if anyone out there knows of a place in the city where al pastor is shaved off a spit and straight into a tortilla, let me (not the Florida Department of Health) know. BTW: Hinojosa's ancho-spiced braised pork was quite nice, as was the house-made corn tortilla.
A hard shell was employed for a taco stuffed with ground beef ($2), lettuce, tomato and white cheese, while a soft flour tortilla enveloped grilled mahi ($3.75). All were thoroughly satisfying, all used fresh ingredients, and all received little to no complaint from me or my dining comrades. A shrimp tostada ($6.50) was graced with an avocado slice and plenty of queso fresco, but the plump grilled shrimp is what we picked clean off that deep-fried oval.
There's not much here for vegans, but vegetarians can opt for a quesadilla filled with cheese and mixed vegetables – we got zucchini and squash on one visit. We were told a vegan option was making its way onto the menu very soon, and seeing how brisk the service is here, I wouldn't be surprised if it's already offered by the time this review hits print. There was flan ($3) and a basketful of sugar-dusted sopapillas ($4) slicked with caramel to be had at our meal's conclusion, and given how we enjoyed it all, we agreed it was the end of the beginning.