Sunday, January 22, 2017

Where We Eat: Hablo Taco

A really big football game came to Tampa a few weeks back. This football game brought with it a lot of fancy little popup events that took place all through our downtown. I was invited to one of those popup events, probably because the masterminds behind the event know of my blogging prowess, and I took them up on their offer. I spent a few hours mingling with others in the field of blogging, getting a massage, taking pictures of myself holding a bunch of different trophies and grabbing whatever free stuff I could find.

One thing that was severely lacking in the free realm was food. Chick-Fil-A (not much vegan happening there), soda (no thank you) and popcorn (I'll pass) were all I could track down. Needless to say, I was pretty famished when I left that event. I grabbed a couple of my other blogger friends (yes, bloggers do have friends) for a late afternoon meal. One of them suggested we check out Hablo Taco. I wasn't super keen on this, I mean gringo-centric Mexican food in a part of town where everyone is young and wears sunglassess inside with shorts and a buttoned up shirt never seems to go well. Those places are usually all about the drink with the food being a distant afterthought.

We were seated and given menus almost immediately upon entering Hablo Taco. A round of guacamole was ordered as a precursor to our meal. I was intrigued to see that the place offers three different versions of guac. There is the "house" guac made up of jalapeno, lime and tomato, the "holy" guac with peppers and beans and the "sriracha" guac that includes...you guessed it, sriracha. We opted for the less fired up house version. Despite the fact that the guac contains one alarming ingredient (cilantro) and another borderline one (jalapeno) I was pleased with the flavor. It didn't lean too far in any direction. It wasn't too spicy or limey and I couldn't even taste the cilantro. So far Hablo Taco and their gringo inspired menu was a-ok.


The House Guacamole and Basket of Chips

Hablo Taco had a few options on their menu that appeared like they could be veganized. I really only considered two. One was a salad, one was a bowl. I've been sort of on a bowl kick for the last month (ordering one recently at Chipotle and Capital Tacos) so that's what I went with at Hablo Taco. Their bowl, dubbed the Bueno Bowl, typically contains black beans, queso blanco, pico de gallo, kimchee onions, and either cilantro-lime or Mexican rice. You can add guacamole and kimchee jalapenos for no extra charge. I removed the cheese and added the kimchee jalapenos. I opted for the rice that didn't contain cilantro. Wow. This bowl was a lot better than I ever imagined. The creamy salsa and beans morphed together to form a soft, chunky sauce. The jalapenos and onions retained some of their crunch while offering a pungent, slightly sour note to the dish. They also brought just the right amount of heat. The rice, which was puffed nicely, really took on the flavor of everything else. From where I stand, Hablo Taco probably could've gotten away with adding unflavored rice to the dish.


The Bueno Bowl

Hablo Taco is as gringo as it comes. The crowd is mostly white. The workers are mainly white. Know this before you go in, otherwise you will be sorely disappointed. There is nothing "authentic" in this place. California bro...don't waste your time. I don't want to have to read your review about how this "pales in comparison to taco places in California" and "these guys don't know how to make authentic tacos". That being said, I was perfectly ok with my meal. I'm not saying I would drive out of my way to go here, because I wouldn't. What I am saying is that next time some big football game is in town and the powers that be invite me to hang out with my fellow bloggers while gifting me lots of free stuff, I wouldn't think twice about paying Hablo Taco another visit.

I'm thinking LA based newcomer Ella Vos' knows a thing or two about California tacos. I mean her stunning single "Down In Flames" seems to be all about that time when someone she knows ate food that was just too spicy and spent the evening in front of the toilet aka down in flames. You don't have to be from California to be able to relate. Ella's stellar vocals float beautifully over an expansive soundscape. She is probably the first artist I've come across who can make that fiery taco end (or any end for that matter) feel like a soothing lullabye. Check it: