Dining Outside the Home: Pepper’s Mexican Grill & Cantina in Shalimar, Florida! Sipping on a salt or sugar-rimmed margarita, with a grand marnier floater, is the only way to peruse the menu of a Mexican restaurant. The orange-flavored cognac not only adds a zing of citrus, its deep amber color elevates an ordinary cocktail to a vacation status offering perfect relaxation. A basket of homemade chips act as a modifier while you make up your mind for the main course. Tacos de Carnitas or the Taco Salad Fajitas will tickle your taste buds with marinated grilled meats that become the star attraction, enhanced by sautéed onions, chopped cilantro, and restaurant-style salsas. Seriously, this is the best way to pass the time before checking into the cottage rental on the beach.
Dining Outside the Home: Tacos & Tequila Cantina in Fort Myers, Florida! If going South of the border gives you illusions of adventurous Tex Mex meals filled with bold ingredients and health benefits, this is the place to try. Keep in mind the focus is on tacos. After all, it’s their specialty. With over two dozen ways to fill a taco with meat and seafood, vine-ripened tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sautéed onions, Mexican cheeses, grilled tortillas, pico de gallos, and more, there’s something for every funky craving you can think of. The decor is fun and quirky. Look up to see hanging chandeliers made of empty tequila bottles. The walls are covered with vibrant sugar skulls as well as fiesta “Day of the Dead” custom pieces, making every visit a celebration. Be daring. Try something new. And for goodness sake, be brave enough to try the spicy margarita. That’s kinda the point.
Dining Outside the Home: Alice Sweetwater’s Bar & Grille in Naples, Florida! When you’re in the mood for a fabulous eatery defined by fresh ingredients, flavorful cocktails, and decades-old cooking with a modern twist, look no further. Ask for seating on the outdoor deck; it’s worth the wait if you enjoy being on the edge of a party. Start off with a salt-rimmed Jalapeño Margarita. Sip it slow or you may find yourself seeing pink flamingos. “Take a walk on the water side!” Lobstah-lovers will certainly appreciate the Lobster BLT sammie on a grilled baguette with crunchy fries and creamy coleslaw. If you are a foodie looking for a variety of tasty dishes, plus an inviting vibe beckoning locals and tourists alike, then give Alice Sweetwater’s a try.
Dining Outside the Home: Mr. Tequila Authentic Mexican Restaurant in Naples, Florida! When one restaurant owner boasts about an additional place to try, my ears usually perk up. Mexican food is one of my favorites, especially authentic family-owned restaurants with a story to tell. Rafael Romo, born in Guanajuato, migrated to the United States as a teenager. With a good work ethic, he understood the commitment required for a successful business. His journey progressed into a food truck where he sold Mexican food infused with family traditions. Over time he gained more knowledge and experience. Then Mr. Tequila was born. Now popular as a farm-to-kitchen cantina, people flock here for grilled specialties that are bound to become favorites. Some of the drool-worthy dishes include crispy flour shells, grilled seafood and veggies, gooey melted cheese, creamy guacamole, marinated meats, and always fresh pico de gallo. Happy Hour margaritas definitely make late afternoon quite satisfying. For a dining experience rich in culture where people are greeted by name, this place fits the bill.
Dining Outside the Home: Zaza Mexican Kitchen on Marco Island, Florida! Tucked away next to a local bike shop, a blend of kitchen aromas fill the parking lot with hypnotic haziness. The breeze reveals the familiarity of slow-cooked meats like woodsmoke curlicues. Something inside you says this is going to taste pretty good. Using fresh ingredients is a must when combining Latin secrets with Mexican family recipes. There is no other way to cook. The taqueria ambiance slightly resembles Old Mexico living as well. Go ahead, begin with hand-cut chips and salsa. Wash them down with an original agave wine margarita. Ahhh. Then dig in to a platter of sizzling fajitas, spiced carnitas, soft tacos, loaded enchiladas, or cheesy quesadillas. On second thought, better plan on a return visit. Your stomach will thank you.
Dining Outside the Home: Kalapaki Joe’s in Lihue, Kauai! Sometimes you gotta go for bar food cravings and skip dinner in favor of Happy Hour. That translates to dine-in appetizers. At Kalapaki Joe’s, the food and beverage specials have a way of appealing to the palate. Indulge yourself with tasty chicken wings as hot as you like them. No pain, no shame. Put out the fire with a classic salt-rimmed margarita. It goes down cold and easy. Menu items are still available if you want to tag on a salad or another small plate to balance out the flavors. You’ve got time for grazing and conversation before the dinner crowd rushes in. You know what they say, the early bird…has the advantage, or something like that.
Dining Outside the Home: Jalisco Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee! Family-owned translates to heart and soul. In this quaint Mexican cantina, you’re going to be treated like a limb on the family tree. A basket of warm tortilla chips and chunky salsa greet you at the table. The salsa is fresh and light. Dredge a chip through the tomatoes, Serrano peppers, and oregano. Yep, it’s authentic stuff. Add a side of guacamole to balance out the flavor. Love tacos? For those who appreciate it, cilantro is the star attraction. Roasted meat, shredded into small pieces, and chopped red onions with a squeeze of lime create a masterpiece that will pull you back enough to slow down and savor every bite. This is Mexican culture at its best.
Dining Outside the Home: Chuy’s Tex-Mex in Nashville, Tennessee. Where can you go and literally dish up drool-worthy nachos from the trunk of a full-loaded Nacho Car? Say again? You heard me. It’s the trunk of an Elvis-era classic car with a spread of tortilla chips, spicy salsa, creamy jalapeño, cheesy queso, and taco meat. And here’s the kicker: it’s FREE during Happy Hour Monday through Friday at Chuy’s. The restaurant decor is pure Elvis from velvet paintings, neon signs, shiny hubcaps, and nostalgic music. The menu boasts of Mexican favorites and then some of Elvis’s as well. After your fill of food and drink, there’s nothing left to say except, “Thank you, thank you very much”, in that ever familiar Elvis southern drawl.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Food for Sharing: Deveined Shrimp Queso! As the nights turn cool, cozy up around the fire with warm appetizers that are sure to please. Save prep time by beginning with precooked shrimp. It takes all the worry out of wondering if the shrimp is cooked through. I find the convenience of having frozen shrimp on hand an advantage. You will, too.
DEVEINED SHRIMP QUESO
2 tablespoons lemon olive oil
1 pound jumbo shrimp, cooked, peeled, and deveined
1/8 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon seafood seasoning
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup margarita mix, liquid
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Romano cheese, shaved
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, shrimp, seasoned salt, seafood seasoning, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. Cook 5 minutes; turn and cook 2 minutes longer. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover shrimp with tequila and liquid margarita mixture. Add butter. Cook 5 minutes. Transfer shrimp to an ovenproof casserole dish. Arrange in single layer. Mix the cornstarch and water until smooth. Bring pan drippings to a boil. Gradually add cornstarch mixture. Stir constantly as sauce thickens. If necessary, add more water. Pour sauce over shrimp. Cover with Monterey Jack cheese, spreading evenly. Top with shaved Romano cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly. Garnish with fresh dill. Serve warm with tortilla chips or crostini.