Celebration, Florida, is home to an eclectic mix of restaurants, from authentic Boston (I’m looking at you, Town Tavern) to amazing Thai (love me some Thai Tani) to the Cuban flair at the Columbia.
There’s one spot on Bloom Street, just past Starbucks and near the hotel, that’s never been able to find its identity as an eatery…until now. In the past, it’s gone through incarnations as a British tea room, Irish pub, and European bistro before taking a stab at Mexican cuisine as Avocado Mexican Grill. That attempt received a lukewarm reception, but instead of folding up its tents, the grill joined forces with some personnel from a Kissimmee Mexican dining powerhouse and transformed this modest restaurant into something truly authentic.
Trying Out the New Kid in Town
I had the pleasure of trying out the all-new Avocado Mexican Grill at its Cinco de Mayo opening. I’m very familiar with El Tenampa, the Mexican restaurant on East 192 from which it draws its new expertise, so I had high expectations. I’m absolutely hooked on the wet burritos and quesadillas caseras at El Tenampa, not to mention their horchata and aguas frescas, so the prospect of having their style of authentic cuisine right in my backyard was exciting. The question is, could this new incarnation hold up to the high standards of the restaurant that inspired it? I’m happy to say, “Yes! Yes, it does!”
One handicap for Avocado Mexican Grill is that it’s a very small restaurant. It does have both indoor and outdoor space, but it’s quite limited. The kitchen has limits, too, but it’s been redone, and a manager and cook have come from El Tenampa to help make the most of that limited space. I’m not a big one for sitting outdoors because I don’t like to be around smoking, but we had a cozy little table on the far side of the bar that served us quite nicely.
The menu at Avocado is much smaller than El Tenampa’s, reflecting the more limited kitchen space. While the wet burrito and quesadillas caseras were missing, there were plenty of items from which to choose. I purposely chose something I’ve had in the past at El Tenampa (flautas) so I could do a direct comparison.
The chips and salsa were exactly as I know and love them, albeit with a bit more heat. They weren’t overly hot, though, and the salsa was fresh and had plenty of cilantro. Yum! It’s always hard not to overindulge, but I knew that I needed to save stomach space for the feast to come.
Bring on the Main Course
The flautas were crispy, and the chicken was melt in your mouth tender. The beans and Mexican rice were up to my quality standards (I like the veggies in the rice), and, unlike the former Avocado incarnation, everything was sprinkled with real, crumbly Mexican queso. If I had to give any critique, the only thing I would say is that I’d like a bit more seasoning on the chicken, but that’s a very minor point. My husband had a tamale and enchilada, and he said they could easily have come right out of El Tenampa’s kitchen, so the cook has obviously transferred his skills quite well to his new Celebration domain.
To drink, my husband had the sangria, but I opted to try the horchata and lime aguas frescas. Pineapple is also on the menu, but they didn’t have any on this particular day. The horchata was delicious; lime isn’t my favorite aguas frescas, but it was certainly passable, and I’ll definitely try the pineapple next time I visit. I’m hoping they might expand the flavors, as I love more exotic options like tamarind and guava. There were also tequila samples in honor of Cinco de Mayo, and we learned that a tequila flight will be a regular offering.
The portions are a little smaller than those at El Tenampa (where the wet burrito could easily feed two), but you most definitely get enough to fill all but the most ravenous of appetites. Still, I had to find room for dessert so I could compare the fried ice cream. The Avocado version was a yummy treat and a perfect topper to a yummy Mexican meal, enough thought I know it’s not authentic…it’s still a major crowd pleaser.
The Verdict is In
My verdict on the new incarnation of Avocado Mexican Grill: authentic and amazing. Although they kindly comped my first meal, I’ll be there laying down cash on a regular basis. Mexican is my favorite type of ethnic food. When you grow up on the south side of Chicago in a neighborhood with Mexican families who like to share their home cooking, you get a taste for the real thing, and Americanized restaurants, or even Tex-Mex, just don’t fill the bill. I’ll be a regular patron at Celebration’s newest restaurant; the only thing that could make me happier is if sopa de fideo ever showed up on the menu.