The crowds line up almost all day long at the California Tacos to Go north of town on Skipper Road. Greg Lynn is hoping for something like that for the first location much closer to downtown Tampa.
The quirky, beach-themed, and proudly self-proclaimed “taco joint” on Friday opened just north of Dale Mabry Highway and Henderson Boulevard.
Construction on the site went right up to the wire, but at 4:18 a.m. Friday morning, Lynn e-mailed The Tampa Tribune to say, “We made it. Opening today.” Because this is a “soft opening,” Lynn hopes people will give the newly hired staff a chance to learn the ropes and get into a rhythm.
Lynn has deep experience in the restaurant industry, having worked in several corporate roles at Outback Steakhouse during that company’s rapid expansion days. He bought into the “Cali Tacos” site on Skipper Road recently with dual goals: Expand with new locations, and keep each one quirky and rough-hewn enough to maintain that beach-side taco hut vibe.
So the new site on Dale Mabry is full of rough-cut painted plywood and what look like hinged, wood windows on a lifeguard’s hut.
Hand-painted signs on the walls say “Order Here” with arrows pointed to two windows at the counter, placed just above an antique Canada Dry soda cooler that Lynn found on Craig’s List.
The term “California-style” tacos encompasses a wide, yet distinct genre, much in the same way “Tex-Mex” or “Cajun” includes a few staple items around a wider, amorphous lineup. The centerpiece is the Original Grouper Fish Taco, tempura battered, quick fried, with “Juan’s” white sauce, pico, shredded cabbage, all in a soft tortilla for $3.79. There’s are also tacos with pork, Carne Asada, Carnitas, shrimp and Chorizo — each for about $3.50. (The original site on Skipper Road found its way on the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”)
Despite any fears that Cali Tacos would go corporate, Lynn said the food will remain thoroughly shack-style and remain loyal to the specific San Diego variety of California taco cuisine, with lots of fish tacos, but also comfort food like piles of crinkle-cut French fries.
Cali Tacos thus joins a quickly growing pack of new Mexican-themed restaurants opening in Tampa.
The Lime Fresh burrito-themed restaurant opened recently at the corner of Westshore Boulevard and Boy Scout Boulevard. The Connecticut-based “bartaco” restaurant will soon start construction on a site in Hyde Park Village. Plus, Besito Mexican is a high-end restaurant backed by Outback founder Chris Sullivan, and it plans a full-service restaurant in the former Palm restaurant space at Westshore Plaza.
Adding to the list, Tijuana Flats is returning to the Tampa food scene, re-opening a site on Platt Street, plus several others under development in the wider area.