Where were you when you first learned that Bianca's Mexican Store had closed? That dark day is seared into my memory. It was early 2014. April. I was eating across the street. That's when I noticed it, the new sign hanging outside one of my favorite taquerias. Bianca's had gone vamoose, replaced by La Primavera Mexican Food. I couldn't believe it. I rubbed my eyes till they bled. I didn't talk to my family for a week. I only recently stopped wearing all black.
I mourn no longer, for Bianca's returned last week under a new guise, Bianca's Mexican Restaurant, and in a new location, along 12th Street, directly adjacent to Ed Smith Stadium, that was previously home to the 12th St. Cafe. Owner and chef Alfredo Lara closed the old Bianca's and a related restaurant on Beneva Road, both named for his daughter, because of a move to Orlando, but he recently returned to the area. The new 12th Street Bianca's is actually the second Bianca's-adjacent restaurant to reopen in recent times. Tacos Jalisco Authentic Mexican Food, located inside the Marathon gas station on North Lockwood Ridge Road, also falls under the Bianca's umbrella, according to Lara. His wife, Gabriella Gomez, is running that location. (Unrelated, however, is Taco Jalisco, an excellent restaurant that opened last year in a South Trail Texaco. I know. It's complicated.)
What's not complicated is the Bianca's menu, restricted to tried and true south-of-the-border classics. You'll find corn-tortilla tacos ($2), tostadas ($3), sopes ($4) tortas ($5.99), burritos ($8.99, enchiladas ($6.99 for three) and the mother of all Bianca's items, the gordita ($3). The ambiance is similarly limited, with cafeteria-style lines of tables, white tile floors and a TV showing people shooting one another. A home kitchen coffee pot rests on a small table that also holds a container of non-dairy creamer and a plastic tub of sugar. The only way to tell if the restaurant is open is by the white poster-board with the word "Open" written on it, held in place by pink tape stuck to the restaurant's glass doors.
Meat maestro Nancy is introducing me to this magical place. We both double up on gorditas, which you can stuff with whatever meat you prefer. Bianca's offers steak, tongue, tripe, chicken and every possible incarnation of pork—pastor, carnitas, skin, chorizo and stomach. The gorditas are the size of a saucer, browned pockets of corn dough filled with flesh, chopped lettuce and tomatoes and a shower of cheese. The small condiment bar to the right of where you order offers lime wedges, chopped cilantro and onion, red and green salsas and pickled vegetables.
I exhale with relief after taking a bite. These things taste as good as I remember. The carnitas and pastor are rich and moist, the fatty flavors set off with the crunch and freshness of the toppings. Nancy's chicken is shredded and juicy. Ditto for the tongue. A bottle of Jarritos goes perfectly with it all. Our lunch stretches to two hours as we trade restaurant gossip and discuss the state of American masculinity. I'm trying not to be bitter about all the gorditas I haven't been able to eat since that dark day in 2014, and I'm succeeding. I'm just happy Bianca's is back in my life.
Bianca's Mexican Restaurant is located at 2594 12th St., Sarasota, and is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. For more info, call (941) 316-9355.