Will South Floridians, who are used to eating chimichangas, shredded cheddar and other Tex-Mex fare, embrace a Mexican taqueria?
I hope so. Because what the month-old Wapo Taco is doing in Hallandale Beach is rare in South Florida. Sure, there are some great Mexican joints in West Palm Beach and down south in Homestead, but Wapo Taco doesn't kowtow to American tastes or service while still delivering incredible tacos.
While there are a handful of tables when you walk in the door, most of the 40seats are at a U-shaped bar, where you grab a stool and watch the magic happen. In one part of the open kitchen, fresh corn tortillas are being made. They have a wonderful smoky flavor. A big chunk of pork hangs, gyros-style, in front of a hot rotisserie, where it's sliced by hand. You can watch as the signature tacos — tacos al carbon — are cooked over charcoal. The walls and bar top are covered in so much bright-orange tile, you may feel as if you're having a "Brady Bunch" flashback. Even if you've never been to a Mexican taqueria, you know there's something authentic about this place.
The wait staff wears Wapo Taco trucker hats and answer questions and make recommendations. We ordered five dishes on one visit, and they arrived in no particular order.
A very simple guacamole ($7.99) with chips needed a bit more salt, but the avocado was incredibly fresh. Spring onions ($3.99) are grilled over charcoal and served in something called "Mexican jugo," which we came to understand tastes very much like Worcestershire sauce with an overwhelming flavor of tamarind. The onions are very good.
Then, came the tacos, which are served very plainly, three-to-an-order on white plates imprinted on the edge with "Wapo Taco." The tortillas are not fried, and they're accompanied by four ramekins of condiments: marinated onions, avocado cream, pico de gallo and a pleasantly spicy, thick hot sauce.
Order tacos al carbon with rib-eye ($9.99), and you get three tortillas sprinkled with tiny pieces of tender beef. Tacos al carbon with pastor-style pork ($8.99) are among the most popular menu items. Thinly sliced pork from the hot rotisserie is topped with pineapple, onion and cilantro. The taco orders look small, but the corn tortillas are surprisingly filling.
Baja tacos ($11.99), filled with char-grilled shrimp, creamy chipotle sauce and guacamole, are closer to Tex-Mex in that they don't need any additional condiments. They're delicious.
There are other items on the menu to explore. A version of fajitas called alambre can be had. So can tostadas ($5.99-$9.99) and costras ($10.99-$12.99), crispy cheese served on flour tortillas with a choice of vegetables or meat with a side of guacamole.
The taqueria serves Mexican Coca-Cola ($2.99), sweetened with sugarcane instead of corn syrup. House-made infused drinks such as horchata ($2.49), rice based with cinnamon and vanilla, are also available. Check out the selection of Mexican draft and bottled beer ($4.49).
Wapo Taco is co-owned by Emmanuel Garcia, who operates the BurgerFi franchise next door. On a trip to Mexico, Garcia fell in love with a 20-location taco chain called El Farolito, which opened its doors in 1962. Garcia convinced El Farolito's owners to partner in this American version.
A Coral Gables location is set to open later this year. Welcome to South Florida, Wapo Taco.
1955 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd., Diplomat Mall, Hallandale Beach
Hours: Noon-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon-11 p.m. Friday, noon-midnight Saturday
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot