Stuck in a 17th Street strip mall next to a barbershop, a vacuum store and a pawnshop, this six-table eatery specializes in El Salvador’s pupusa, a griddled corn pancake filled with cheese and meat or vegetables. The best option is vegetarian, with a mix of gooey white cheese and chopped loroco buds and flowers for a mere $2. The skin of the corn pancake has been toasted on the flattop, creating a crisp exterior, while a small side of curtido, crunchy pickled cabbage, brings funk, and red and green chili sauces add fruity heat.
Not just the area’s best taco spot—one of our best restaurants, period—can be found inside Bradenton’s Red Barn Flea Market. Maria’s draws crowds of bargain-hunting shoppers who line up for exquisite tacos, gorditas, tostadas, sopes and more, dishes that all succeed thanks to the restaurant’s genius with meat. The tacos al pastor, in particular, are life-affirming. Get four for $6. The meat is succulent, rich and well-spiced, and it comes served on freshly made corn tortillas. The ensemble is punched up with a touch of lime juice, cilantro and raw onion. Finger-licking good.
The line to get at Peperonata Pasta’s toasty-warm empanadas often stretches from one side of the downtown Sarasota farmers’ market to the other, bringing foot traffic on Lemon Avenue to a standstill. Those empanadas ($3) come in all shapes and with all kinds of fillings, but what elevates them all is the dough: crispy-brown on the outside, soft and springy inside. Opt for the Mediterranean beef filling or the caramelized onion and cheese, or go for the humita, filled with sweet, floral corn. Once you develop a craving, you don’t have to wait for the farmer’s market; there’s a Peperonata outpost behind the South Trail Chili’s.
Not really a food truck so much as a truck that serves food, Camacho’s cruises the streets of downtown Sarasota every weekday and sets up shop wherever it can find a crowd—typically near a construction site. The staff serves ridiculously wonderful tacos, quesadillas, tortas and burritos out of the metal canopy attached to the truck’s bed. Go for the $6 burrito, which ranks among the region’s finest. The tortillas contain big fistfuls of meat, rice, lettuce, cheese, onions, cilantro and a creamy sauce. A squirt of lime and a dose of the truck’s blazing-hot red chili sauce are necessary additions, but go easy with the red stuff. It has been known to scald.
With four locations dotting the landscape from Anna Maria to University Parkway, Poppo’s Taqueria is growing quickly for a simple reason: excellent tacos ($2.50-$3.50), burritos ($7.95) and bowls ($5.65-$8.95), stuffed with lovingly braised meats and topped with unusual add-ins like pickled red onions, magenta-bright cabbage and hearty greens. The “spicy beef” doesn’t bring much heat, but the meat has been simmered until it’s barely hanging together; same goes for the restaurant’s top-shelf carnitas. The Pine Avenue location remains the iconic Poppo’s, thanks to its beach-bliss ambiance, but the inland versions are a more than adequate substitute when you can’t make it out to the island.