Riding the success of Las Cazuelas – the popular Mexican grocery store/restaurant on South Conway Road – Betty Salinas set out to establish a foothold in the UCF corridor with a sister operation aptly named Taqueria Las Cazuelas. This is no handsome taqueria of the nouveau variety but, rather, one that embraces its ugly deliciousness. Those avocado-colored walls wholly encompass the ugly, but there's plenty of deliciousness in the chunky guac ($4.99) served with fried tortilla chips. A newbie customer at the counter wisely orders it, then follows up, "What else is good here?" The woman behind the till – masked, gloved and now with a slight look of incredulity – busts out with "Uhhh, the tacos?" I look up from my phone and crack a smile. I liked the sassy no-nonsense 'tude of this gal. When some joker walks into the taqueria without a mask, she cuts short her conversation with the newbie and vocally shoos the maskless twit away, much to the delight of the rest of us. Ahh, the new normal.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
When I get home, I tear into the queso-fresco'd elote ($2.49). It's served on a stick and dusted with plenty of chili powder, but the fat-kerneled cob itself is the star. Wonderfully sweet too, though some lime would've been nice. I end up using the wedges served with my tacos, of which the al pastor ($1.99) is my favorite. The al pastor isn't shaved off the trompo like it is at their South Conway location, but the flavors are right on. When I bite into the lengua ($2.49) and barbacoa ($1.99), I note they're underseasoned, but the nopales ($1.99) are nice and tart. And while the salsa bar, like the dining room at Taqueria Las Cazuelas, remains closed, they'll gladly throw in containers of the sauce of your choice – the "red hot" and slightly less peppery "habañero hot" are all I need to amp the lengua and barbacoa some. Ten taco varieties are offered, all of which are double-tortilla'd for your messy eating pleasure.
On weekends, it's all about the soups and stews, namely pozole ($9.99) and menudo ($9.99). "Las Cazuelas," in fact, refers to the clay vessels holding these hearty meals of slurpy comfort. I get the menudo, my only regret being that I hadn't gone on an epic bender the night before. Menudo may be the hangover soup to end all hangover soups, but don't overlook it just because you're in a state of sobriety. Under that blood-red broth sits chunks of luscious, springy tripe into which I toss cilantro, diced onion and whole green chilies that come in a separate container. Oh, and if you run out of Purell, use this broth as a substitute. Your hands will smell better too. And if you want an accompanying sandwich to enjoy with the menudo, the milanesa ($7.99), comprising breaded steak inside a gigante telera roll, puts any soup/sandwich combo you could get at Panera Bread to shame.
You can't get flan ($2.99) or milky tres leches ($2.99) at Panera either, but you can here. BTW: They do a brisk takeout business, so call and place your order beforehand to prevent a lengthy wait. Word is getting out on Las Cazuelas, and when it comes to the city's taqueria landscape, they're clearly out to stir the pot.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
– This story appears in the Aug. 12, 2020, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly newsletters.