In just a few years, the once-dreary stretch of NE 79th Street from Biscayne Boulevard to the JFK Causeway has turned into a mecca of independent restaurateurs who want to serve food without paying Miami Beach or midtown rents. Peppered amid bait shops and mechanics' garages are good casual places like Mina's Mediterraneo, Schnitzel Haus, and BarMeli. The neighborhood is poised for more growth with the announcement that Bar Lab will take over the operation of Magnum Lounge. Now a taco shop has joined the restaurants and bars along 79th Street, with the opening of Firito Taco.
The shop is located in a former convenience store and shares more than a parking lot with neighboring Tap 79 gastropub. Alfredo Patino, owner of Tap 79, also owns Firito Taco, along with Bin No. 18 in Edgewater.
A few months ago, Patino described the decor as "funky, recycled drift material, very rustic inside," and he made good on the promise. The taco shop is decorated in what could best be described as "my cruise ship stopped in Cancún and I went shopping for tchotchkes." Pictures of bullfighters grace the walls, and the ceiling is adorned with rice sacks. The ice machine, left over from the former Hippo Bites, remains outside with a painted sign that implores you to "chill out and have a taco."
There's also a bocce court outside, along with a large grill and signs indicating that weekend cookouts are in Firito's future.
The menu is short and sweet.
Tacos come two to an order and range from $6 for the jarochito (pork, chile toreado, onion, cilantro, and smoked cheese crema); tinga club (chicken, bacon, avocado crema, queso, tomato, garlic chili aioli, and scallion); or báhn mì (chicken, ginger, radish curtido, tomato, cilantro, and spicy mayo) to $8 for the cuchillo (Angus churrasco, bacon, avocado, queso, smoked salt, and scallion); carne asada (Angus churrasco); or Cali fish (grilled mahi with fried caper tartare). There are other tacos, along with quesadillas ($4 for a plain queso or add $2 for chicken, chorizo, or grilled nopales) and salads ($7 plain, $12 topped with churrasco).
The restaurant serves agua fresca ($3), toasted almond horchata ($4), and a variety of beers and sangria. However, on a recent weekday, the only beers available were Coors, Corona, and Heineken even though the menu touted Dos Equis, Estrella Damm on tap, and Negra Modelo. Considering Tap 79 is next door, it would have been nice to have been offered its sister restaurant's vastly superior beer selection with the tacos.
After ordering, you're given a small bucket of house-made chips and salsa.
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The tacos are good. The fish in the Cali tacos is plentiful and moist, and the fried caper tartar sauce is a pleasant mix of tangy and creamy. But the báhn mì taco is the standout. Tangy and spicy, it boasts a wonderful brightness from the radish. Two tacos are filling enough to call it a meal. Prices here are on par with those at Miami's hottest taco joints, such as Coyo Taco, Huahua's, Bodega, and Taquiza; however, those restaurants have a higher overhead. Patino could take a page from Jefe's Soul Shack a few miles up the road, where solid fish tacos sell for $2.50. A restaurant should suit its neighborhood.
Still, the tacos at Firito's are fresh and make for a quick meal without breaking the bank.
Firito Taco is located at 1071 NE 79th St., Miami, and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.