The Review That Wasn't

Revisiting Circo, Downtown Sarasota's 'Taco and Bourbon Joint'

What was it like to eat out before the pandemic? I barely remember.

By Cooper Levey-Baker April 28, 2021

I can tell you the exact date of the last time I ate a sit-down meal indoors in a restaurant in Sarasota. It was Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at Circo. I had already eaten lunch at the then-new downtown restaurant a few times and enjoyed it, but that evening, I needed to go back to eat dinner, because I was planning on reviewing the restaurant for Sarasota Magazine's May issue.

I liked it. According to an expense reimbursement request I later filed, my wife and kids and I packed away six tacos, a beef bowl, multiple rounds of tortilla chips, a cauldron of queso and a couple cocktails.

Circo's Mongolian beef taco.

Image: Chad Spencer

The very next day, news broke that a Manatee County man at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota had become one of the first people in the state of Florida to test positive for Covid-19. The day after that, unaware of what that positive test really meant, I went ahead and wrote my Circo review, praising its ambiance and recommending it as a place for "a happy hour hangout, a solo lunch or dinner with the kids."

And then, with the exception of a disastrous trip to Washington, D.C., right before the pandemic kicked in (couldn't waste the money spent on flights!), I stopped eating out indoors. In the year-plus since, I've eaten tons of takeout and delivery, haunted food trucks and dined on patios and in other outdoor spaces.

Circo's "Nashville hot" tofu taco.

Image: Chad Spencer

The magazine ended up killing my Circo review, because the restaurant, like all others, shut down shortly after I wrote it. Why publish a review of a restaurant people couldn't go to?

But I remembered Circo fondly, and so, on Tuesday, nearly a year and two months after last eating there, my wife and I, both double-vaccinated, went back. We sat out front, at one of the restaurant's three outdoor tables, and scarfed down a huge lunch. On Tuesdays, the restaurant offers a buy-one, get-one deal on tacos. It's a terrific promotion.

The menu's layout is simple. You’ll find chips and dips, tacos, a few sides, bowls, a burger, salads and, on the weekends, a few brunch options. For drinks, there's a pick of draft beers, margaritas and other cocktails.

It's interesting to compare and contrast our meal this week with what I wrote about the restaurant last year. Originally, I favored the Mongolian beef taco ($4.50), which is topped with a slaw spiced with sambal, an Indonesian chili sauce, sesame seeds and a tangle of fried scallions, and the Korean pork taco ($3.50), flavored with a kimchi slaw, pickled peppers and more fried onions.

I still liked those, but this week, I was more taken with the restaurant's "Nashville hot" tofu taco ($3.50), which combines crispy fried tofu with a cooling slaw and a smooth “ranch crema.” I also enjoyed the Thai shrimp taco ($4), made with plump fried shrimp amplified by a mango salsa and more pickled peppers.

The "queso fun-dido" ($9) is made with two types of cheese, chorizo and salsa verde and served with a brown paper bag stuffed with toasty, salty tortilla chips. It disappeared just as quickly as the tacos.

What I missed? The feelings. Circo is described as a "joint," and that word fits. "It’s not a sit-down restaurant, but rather a clubhouse," I wrote last year, noting a banging soundtrack heavy on EPMDThe Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z, plus games to keep you occupied. Eating outside, by ourselves, wasn't as much fun as it was eating inside, with a bustling crowd, last year. That's nobody's fault. It's just the way it is these days.

But with Covid-19 vaccines hitting more and more arms, let's hope the carefree vibes return soon. Until then, if you're hunting for satisfying tacos, consider Circo.

Circo is located at 1435 Second St., Sarasota, and is open noon-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. For more info, call (941) 253-0978 or visit the restaurant's website.

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