search

Naples Goes Mexican: From Humble Taquerias to Haute Southwestern Style



One of America’s most well loved ethnic fare, Mexican cuisine is as easy to find in Naples, Florida, as anywhere – possibly even more so given its strong Latin immigrant populations on the town’s fringes. They give Naples and Bonita Springs a reputation for “hole in the wall” taquerias that sell true, homemade and affordable tacos and other south of the border specialties. Take ultra-casual Taqueria San Julian, for instance, east of downtown Naples., where tacos cost $1.50 each and include varieties such as tripe and tongue.

On the other end of the Tex-Mex range, restaurants borrow from Mexican tradition to create innovative, carefully crafted and multi-dimensional dishes such as you will find at Agave Bar & Grill, known also for its stocks of tequila and live entertainment scene. Between the two extremes dwells modern cantinas and restaurants that serve up stylish ambiance and traditional dishes re-imagined for the American palate – Senor Tequila’s Fine Mexican Grill in Bonita Springs, for example.

For your Naples’ Mexican 101 course, this list visits the entire range of Mexican dining restaurants – from places where the local Latinos hang out to more gourmet genres of Mexican cuisine.


Advertisement

Felipe's Taqueria


Similar to the style of the Moe's Southwest Grill chain, you custom order your tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, chimichangas, salads and bowls as you pass by a line of ingredients. Felipe's, however, is a smaller chain of a half-dozen shops. But the main difference is cocktails: good, fresh, craft cocktails and beer at Felipe's. Design your entree with spicy chicken, grilled chicken, shrimp, al pastor, carnitas, steak, chorizo, vegetables or breaded fish. Or order ahead online. Spice up your dinner at the hot sauce bar and add a side of Felipe's famous queso dip and chips.

Recommended for Mexican because: Felipe's uses fresh quality ingredients to create authentic Mexican flavors.

Chelle's expert tip: Bartenders make margaritas out of freshly squeezed lime juice.

Read more about Felipe's Taqueria →


Flaco's
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


A longtime amigo of Mexican loving diners in Naples, Flaco's, which ironically translates to "Skinny's," fattens you with a wide variety of traditional dishes. Additionally, the menu lists a number of vegetarian dishes plus steaks and seafood. To stay skinny, order the house or Caesar salad. But if you are looking for Mexican comfort food, the choices are rife: loaded nachos, quesadillas, corn tortilla soup, black bean soup, hominy and pork soup, chimichangas, enchiladas, burritos, chili relleno, tamales, tacos, fajitas, pollo mole and combinations platters. For dessert, try the flan or banana chimi cheese cake.

Recommended for Mexican because: Flaco's was one of Naples' first Mexican restaurants and remains popular with the locals.

Chelle's expert tip: For an appetizer or light lunch, try the seafood medley ceviche on a tostado.

Read more about Flaco's →


Taco Ardiente
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

With a busy location at the corner of Tamiami Road and Pine Ridge Road, Taco Ardiente is practically guaranteed a steady clientele. Its reasonable prices and full fledged list of Mexican favorites cinch the deal. It has a loyal following that comes in to sit inside or out in the courtyard or calls in for take out orders. The most expensive item on the menu, shrimp quesadilla, costs under $7. Two items you will not find on every Mexican restaurant menu are sope, thick corn tortillas topped with beef and refried beans, and Mexican pizza, two crispy flour tortillas stuffed with beans and beef then topped with salsa, guajillo chili sauce and cheese.

Recommended for Mexican because: This is the epitome of an authentic Mexican taqueria but with extensive menu offerings.

Chelle's expert tip: Caramel churros for dessert cost three for $3.46 and are yummy.

Read more about Taco Ardiente →


Advertisement
Salsa Brava
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


Although the window sign shouts TACOS BURRITOS TAMALES, the menu at Salsa Brava goes way deeper and more complex than your typical Mexican take out, especially at dinner. Fried whole red snapper, shrimp sautéed with tomatoes and onions or in a spicy house chipotle sauce, and skirt steak with enchiladas are a few of the offerings at dinner, when diners can also enjoy special cocktails such as watermelon aqua with vodka. For dessert, try the apple and cream cheese chimichanga. The hard to find corner café serves breakfast starting at 9:30 and Happy Hour from 2 to 6 p.m.

Recommended for Mexican because: The tiny cafe serves authentic Mexican cuisine, beverages and desserts.

Chelle's expert tip: The sign says it opens at 9:30, but the little cafe is often on "manana" time, so don't be surprised if you have to wait a little.

Read more about Salsa Brava →


Senor Tequila's Fine Mexican Grill
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


The basket of chips arrives with two bowls - one filled with a traditional full-textured, not-afraid-to-burn red salsa. The other contains a pico de gallo of chopped fresh yellow, orange and red tomatoes, jalapeños and other fiery flavorings. The style of cuisine here is billed as Jalisco, the Mexican region that is home to Guadalajara, mariachi and tequila. A selection of 20 different types of tequila reinforces the restaurant's name. The all-day and luncheon combination menus embrace the expected in Mexican cuisine. But from there, the many-paged spread runs amok with home-cooked specialties that surprise, delight and transport to old and new Mexico. The variety of seafood dishes attest to Jalisco's seaside roots. From simple fish tacos and shrimp with rice, they range to fusions of other Latin cultures in such dishes as fish ceviche, shrimp in garlic butter with onions and mushrooms and octopus and shrimp cocktail.

Recommended for Mexican because: First opened in 2009 in Golden Gate, the upscale Mexican chain now has locations in Bonita Springs and North Naples as well.

Chelle's expert tip: The lunch menu includes a discounted daily special.

Read more about Senor Tequila's Fine Mexican Grill →


Tacos & Tequila Cantina
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


It's not just all about tacos, but Tacos & Tequila Cantina's menu does list nearly 20 different flavors from traditional carnita to Buffalo, po' boy shrimp and Korean beef tacos. Sauces and ingredients all taste fresh in this indoor-outdoor garage chic setting that looks as though it could do some partying. (In recent years, the restaurant has expanded to North Naples and Estero locations.) Other traditional and inventive food offerings include huevos rancheros and Mexican burger. It's not all about tequila, either, although the drink menu lists 30-something different kinds of blanco, reposado and anejo tequilas. Choose also from 20 flavors of margaritas and other fruit drinks.

Recommended for Mexican because: This is the kind of Mex place that puts "party" in the equation, but its food is genuine and fresh.

Chelle's expert tip: For a proper sample of T&T, slap down $29 for the Trio Bandito: three tacos and three shots of tequila.

Read more about Tacos & Tequila Cantina →


Taco Mix
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


Taco Mix flexes beyond Mexican to include also Cuban fare to please the beach-going crowd along Bonita Beach Road. Nonetheless pure in its south of the border orientation, it whips up a marvelous guacamole. Taco Mix also touts its tacos, and the barbacoa (lamb) variety is tasty enough, but a little dry. The beef enchiladas far exceed with their layers of guajillo salsa, tomato salsa, cheese and piped sour cream. It is one of those simple little places where you order at the counter, then have a seat at one of a dozen or so plain booths and tables to await the delivery of your meal in a plastic basket.

Recommended for Mexican because: Taco lovers proclaim this the best in the area for real Mex.

Chelle's expert tip: Be sure to order the homemade guacamole.

Read more about Taco Mix →


Agave Bar & Grill
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


This handsomely decorated dining room definitely dwells at the high end of Naples' range of Mexican restaurants with fare that embraces fresh Southwestern American cuisine. Its signature guacamole bar custom blends your avocado dip to your liking and degree of burn. That, along with the amazingly seasoned chicken tortilla soup, with half an avocado fanned into the bowl, could make a lunch. Even the complimentary chips and salsa have their own special addictive flair. Entree specialities include Yucatan fried chicken, paella and pork osso bucco in addition to Mexican favorites. The bar features a wide range of tequilas and margaritas.

Recommended for Mexican because: The small menu devotes itself to complex flavors and textures unlike any other Mexican restaurant in town.

Chelle's expert tip: Start your meal with the excellent chicken tortilla soup topped with avocado.

Read more about Agave Bar & Grill →


Taqueria San Julian
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


Taqueria San Julian has had a presence in the Southwest Florida area for quite some time now. Its reputation is built upon affordability and authenticity â€" a taqueria in the true sense of the word. That means you should not expect fancy digs and foo-foo margaritas in stemmed glassware. Expect instead a cozy huddle of indoor tables around the counter where you order â€" a clean, tiled space - and picnic tables outside along the road, but buffered by some vegetation. The menu is equally simple: One side of the menu lists eight types of tacos for $1.50 each; on the flip side, eight flavors of quesadillas sell for $2.50 each. Ceviche or shrimp tostados are also $2.50 each. The big splurge is Mexican style shrimp cocktail with avocado for $11.

Recommended for Mexican because: The local Latino and gringo populations alike head here for good, cheap tacos and quesadillas.

Chelle's expert tip: The little eatery sells American and Mexican sodas and beers.

Read more about Taqueria San Julian →


1
East Naples
Molcajetes
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

East of Naples, the wealthy façade makes way for more humble communities, LatinX neighborhoods and affordable dining. The Bayshore area, however, is growing into a foodie destination and Molcajetes has contributed greatly to that reputation as it evolves from a local secret to a veritable fiesta. Start your day with iconic Mexican breakfasts such as chilaquiles or huevos rancheros. In addition to typical burrito and taco fare, it offers a nice selection of seafood dishes such as garlic mojo shrimp, ceviche, fried red snapper and octopus tostado. House-made soups range from classic menudo to Barbacoa - spicy lamb with garbanzo beans. Authentically and freshly Mexican, it also fuses other Latin American food traditions.

Read more about Molcajetes →


Map

Meet Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton – the Local Expert for Naples, Florida and the Caribbean – has been covering the destination for 30 years. Her top-selling Sarasota, Sanibel Island, and...  More About Chelle

×