When you grow up in Texas, you get indoctrinated to Mexican food from an early age. The state’s cuisine has been heavily influenced by the flavors of Mexico since the earliest days of American settlement, and over the years, a new variant emerged – ooey, gooey Tex-Mex, the invention of San Antonio that remains a staple of Texan life throughout the state. I’ll also be the first to admit, Texans are snobbish about their Tex-Mex, and when you’ve grown up on San Antonio-style goodness, nothing else really measures up – an argument I’ve had many times with friends from New Mexico and Colorado, who are equally protective of the Santa Fe-style Mexican food that predominates there.
As regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now, my wife and I make a fair number of trips to the Ft. Myers area in Florida to visit my sister and my nephew. Usually, we end up going out to eat quite a bit when we are there; my sister, understandably, enjoys the break from cooking for a couple of days, and my nephew likes spending time with us. Both my sister and little nephew like Mexican food, so during our last set of visits in the summer and fall, she took us out to two of the area’s top-rated Mexican establishments, in her estimation. But how would two joints in the land of the Cuban sandwich hold up to this Tex-Mex snob? Stay tuned to find out!
A reminder of my double secret restaurant rating system:
5 – I Would Walk 500 Miles (And I Would Walk 500 More) to visit this place
4 – Worth a visit when in town
3 – Meh; I won’t object if a friend suggests it, but I wouldn’t recommend it on my own
2 – Only if nothing else is open
1 – Run, Sriram, Run!
Flaco’s Mexican Specialties & Steak House
- 4947 N. Tamiami Trail (US 41) #110, Naples, FL
- Hours: M-Th 11 A.M. – 3 P.M. & 5-10 P.M.; F 11 A.M. – 3 P.M. & 5-10:30 P.M.; Noon-10:30 P.M.; Su Noon-10 P.M.
- Price: $15-25 per person, no alcohol
Directions: On the west side of 41, just south of Pine Ridge in north Naples. From IH-75, Exit Pine Ridge Rd. (Exit 107), go west, turn left at US 41, and the restaurant will be in a shopping center on your right. From Naples itself, go north on 41, and the restaurant will be on your left just before Pine Ridge.
Disclosure before I get started: this review is based on a vist at the end of August, though my sister had brought me here before some years ago. Clearly, it was alright enough that I didn’t object when she suggested it. Anyway, Flaco’s is located in a nondescript strip mall on the far north side of Naples. That’s actually a plus in my book, since nondescript suburban strip malls are frequently home to good, inexpensive food. The restaurant’s interior is actually fairly understated, and has a nice bar area. You don’t have the rather loud, cartoonish “Cancun in a can” look that you see at way too many Mexican restaurants – just a few pieces of Mexican artwork instead.
My wife and I started off with some chicken nachos to share (we ate most of them before I remembered to take a picture).
These were decent nachos, though I wouldn’t say they were particularly memorable. Though I’m a self-described cheese monster, I prefer a little less cheese on my nachos. The whole point is to experience layers of flavor from the meat, beans, cheese, jalapenos, and sour cream, and with too much cheese, it ends up taking over the entire dish. But, they were good enough that we ate them all.
For the main course, I ordered the chicken enchiladas spicy, and my wife ordered the seafood enchiladas mild.
I was wondering what “spicy” would entail, and it turns out it was a special habanero sauce. A sauce so atomic, in fact, that they’ll only serve it on the side. First, I applaud the chef for giving the enchiladas the proper broiler treatment. You want to stick them under the broiler for a couple of minutes to get that slightly crispy texture to the cheese. And yes, that sauce was some seriously atomic heat. I could only take a little bit with each bite, but if you’re a heat seeker, order the spicy sauce. You’ll enjoy it. Just enjoy it in small doses, or it’ll overpower whatever you’re eating. On the downside, the chicken didn’t have a lot of flavor, and the overload of diced tomatoes was overkill. I love tomatoes, but they get in the way of the enchiladas, and with cool tomatoes on a hot dish, they get runny, cause the sauce to curdle a little, and also make the refried beans a little runny. Speaking of beans, these were also pretty good; rich and with the right amount of cheese mixed in.
My wife and I shared a serving of fried ice cream for dessert.
It’s hard not to like fried ice cream, though I thought this could have been better. The outer taco shell wasn’t very crispy, and was slightly bitter, as if it had been left in the fryer a little too long. It’s also traditional to add honey to the crispy coating of the ice cream. There was some, but a little more would have been nice. This is all a very long way of saying that while this was a decent dessert, it wasn’t a great one.
Late August is still rainy season in Southwest Florida, so despite this being Labor Day weekend, the place was half empty, and we enjoyed quick, courteous service.
Rating: I kept going back and forth on this one, but finally settled on 4 stars. My meal was a borderline 3 vs. 4, but at the end of the day, my mom, who is tough to please, ate most of her food, so that convinced me to kick it up one star. It’s not the same as Tex-Mex, but it’s good.
- 28051 S. Tamiami Trail (US 41), Bonita Springs, FL; other locations in Ft. Myers and Cape Coral
- Hours: Sun – Thurs 11 A.M. – 9 P.M.; Fri – Sat 11 A.M. – 10 P.M.
- Price: $15-25 per person, no alcohol
Directions: At the SE corner of Bonita Beach Road and US 41. From IH-75, exit Bonita Beach Road, go west, and turn left at the traffic light into the shopping center immediately before the intersection with 41 (Arroyal). You’ll have to go right and circle through the parking lot a ways to get to Iguana Mia. There is no entrance to the shopping center off of southbound 41. From Ft. Myers, go south on 41, turn left at Bonita Beach Road, and turn right into the shopping center. From Naples, go north on 41, and turn right directly into the shopping center by the Jiffy Lube.
This is another restaurant my sister has taken me to before. I didn’t remember it being all that great, but my 6-year old nephew wanted to go here, and let’s face it, you don’t argue with a 6-year old. Anyway, I made my comment earlier about “Cancun in a can” for a reason – it’s on full display here. In fairness to Iguana Mia, there’s plenty of places in Texas that do the same thing. But seriously, is all the pomp really necessary?
At least as the last photo shows, they have the whole iguana thing down. Anyway, we started off with some chili con queso for the table.
One word – blech. It looked fine, but this was one of the worst quesos I’ve ever tried, watery and with no flavor. I had one chip and stopped while I was ahead. Which was all well and good, because my nephew wanted to eat it all anyway. I had to hope for a better experience with my main course selection, the seasonally available pepperjack cheesesteak chimichanga.
Now first of all, there is something conspicuously missing from this chimichanga – sauce. To borrow a line from an old Mike Myers Saturday Night Live skit, when it comes to Mexican food, generally speaking, if there’s no sauce, it’s CRAAAP!!!! (For maximum effect, say it with your best fake Scottish accent.) The sauce is really what makes or breaks Mexican food, as it’s most effective at imparting flavor into whatever the underlying dish is, so its absence here is unusual. However, they say never judge a book by its cover, and in this case, the chimichanga itself is actually pretty good. The menu claims the sauce inside is bechemel sauce. That it most certainly isn’t, but it was a creamy concotion that complemented the pepperjack cheese and carne asada very nicely. The beef itself was nicely seasoned, and the poblano pepper combined with sauteed onions provided a nice flavor and a good crunch. There is, however, one big problem with this dish. The website proclaims that Iguana Mia will never microwave your food, but take a close look at the refried beans – you’ll notice the flaked, dried out texture at the edges that is a telltale sign of nuking in the microwave on high. Not cool, folks. And indeed, though the beans had an alright flavor, they were slightly dry, more evidence of microwaving. They also could have used some cheese, though I wasn’t about to mix in that awful queso, so I did without.
Anyway, just like on our visit to Flaco’s, my wife and I shared a fried ice cream.
This version was better than Flacos, and a more manageable portion to boot. While the outer coating was a little mushy, the outer shell was noticeably tastier, with a good helping of cinnamon giving the crispy bowl a good measure of sweetness. The ice cream ball was also drizzled with a fair dollop of honey; the mix of honey and whipped cream in each bite is what makes a good fried ice cream, in my opinion.
Again, with a mostly empty restaurant thanks to Florida’s rainy season, we were served and received our food promptly, and our waitress actually acted like she was happy to see us. Come back in February, though, and it’s a different story (not just here, but throughout Southwest Florida).
Rating: 2 1/2 stars. Objectively, the meal was probably closer to a 3, but I’m docking them half a star for microwaving my beans.