Mexican dining in Pensacola offers a wide variety of choices. Typically, Mexican food in Pensacola tips to the Tex-Mex scale; those looking for authentic food based on black beans should look elsewhere. But if you enjoy the Tex-Mex variety, then there are many restaurants in town to enjoy.
One of the oldest Mexican restaurants in Pensacola-and my own personal favorite-is the Taco House, located at 4295 W. Navy Blvd. What makes the Taco House so good for me probably revolves around familiarity. After all, I’ve been eating there on a regular basis for over thirty years. Familiarity alone doesn’t rate this restaurant at the top however. After all, I’ve eaten at all the restaurants in this article and many, many others that won’t make it. Although many have risen to the occasion, so far none threaten to topple the Taco House for sheer deliciousness. And, perhaps most importantly, Taco House makes their own hot sauces-both red and green-and no hot sauce in Pensacola has yet to make food taste better. Anyone who has read my article on the hottest hot sauces around knows that I love it super-hot. But it isn’t the heat that makes the Taco House hot sauce special. It’s the flavor. And that flavor just can’t be beat here.
As I sad, Mexican dining in Pensacola revolves around Tex-Mex and the Taco House has been providing your basic stand-bys for a long time. Here you will tacos, enchiladas, tamales, tostadas, etc. The enchiladas and tacos are, simply put, the best in town. The enchiladas come in a delicious red sauce and are stuffed with hamburger, chicken, cheese or shredded beef depending on your taste. The tacos are always fresh, stuffed with beef, lettuce, and cheese and taste fantastic dipped in the red sauce and covered with the hot sauces.
Ask most people in any town where the best Mexican restaurant is and chances are they’ll send you to some little hole in the wall rather than the restaurant that goes overboard with the decorations and dÃ?Â©cor. Same thing here. While you will definitely know you are in a Mexican restaurant, Taco House doesn’t kill you with ambience. They focus on the food. And if you aren’t into the great Mexican standards, you can also order fantastic-smelling grilled fajitas in both steak and chicken varieties, a Mexican pizza and big quesadillas. In addition, they also offer hamburgers and chicken platters and salad for members of you party who just avoid the whole Mexican issue altogether.
One of the great things about Taco House is their buffet. It’s not an actual buffet, but rather an order-all-you-want-for-one-price. Just about everything on the menu is up for grabs and you just can’t beat this offer. As for drinks, it’s Coke products, beer and mixed drinks like margaritas.
If you judge a restaurant by the number of cars in the parking lot, Monterrey’s will appeal to you. There are at least three Monterrey’s in town, though I swear it sometimes seem like there are at least six. This particular review is concerned with the restaurant located at 5190 Mobile Hwy, but since all of them are owned by the same people, they are all pretty much alike. Monterrey’s popularity somewhat astounds me. Not because the food is bad or anything, but because it’s certainly not stupendously great or different. Don’t misunderstand, I’m advocating that you eat here, but I’m at a loss to explain why these restaurants are clearly the most popular for Mexican dining in Pensacola.
Monterrey’s is slightly more traditional than Taco House, but make no mistake; it is definitely still Tex-Mex. Monterrey’s is a little heavier on the ambience than Taco House, even offering large screen televisions showing Spanish-language programming on a Spanish cable channel. The next big difference is the menu. While Taco House is more of an ala carte type where you can pick or choose, Monterrey’s is big on offering pre-packaged dinners.
For instance, you can order your meal according to number and the waiters will know exactly what you want, like an enchilada, a taco, refried beans and Spanish rice. In addition, Monterrey’s is bigger on offering stuffed-type foods like burritos filled with beef, cheese and beans. The one thing I especially don’t like about Monterrey’s is their lack of a homemade hot sauce. Instead, they offer a store brand which just doesn’t have the same bite.
There is no questioning that Monterrey’s offers a larger variety of food than Taco House, but the portions are pretty similar and the flavors aren’t noticeably different. The prices are on the same keel as well. Given the choice between them, I’d obviously take Taco House, but having said that, I must say that one of the finest single dishes to be found in all of Pensacola can only be found at Monterrey’s. It’s called a Spicy Burrito and you don’t have to worry about ordering anything else. It’s huge, stuffed with chunks of beef, beans and rice and it actually is pretty spicy, though hardly overwhelming. If you choose Monterrey’s over Taco House, then this is the menu item I heartily recommend.
Another old-timer is Los Rancheros, located at 7250 Plantation Rd, behind University Mall. This one has gone through some moves and renovations and has been a mainstay in Pensacola for some time. Los Rancheros may serve the most authentic Mexican food of the three restaurants listed here, but don’t get the idea that you’ll be ordering darkly colored, bean-based food. We’re still firmly based in Tex-Mex territory, though there are more menu items based on pork and seafood than in the other two. In addition, you can find more shredded beef items at Los Rancheros than just about any other Mexican restaurant in town.
The atmosphere here is lively and casual, and avoids the overwhelming trappings of the larger chains that go out of their way to prove they are a Mexican restaurant. If you were planning a party or relatively small get together, this would probably be my first choice. They can easily move their booths and chairs to provide you with a private ambience. Of all three, I’d probably rate the food here as the least impressive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It is! Again, like at Monterrey’s, there is a lack of an impressive hot sauce and for a lot of people a Mexican restaurant lives or dies based on hot sauce. If hot sauce is what keeps you coming back to a restaurant, then you won’t be coming back here. Which is a shame, but the food really is top notch.
Mexican dining in Pensacola is hardly relegated to these three restaurants. These three, however, lead the pack among a certain type of Tex-Mex, laid-back kind of dining establishment. Pensacola also offers, however, some alternative Mexican dining that is screaming out for a follow-up to this article.