Ralph Pagano is driving in the rain to Naked Taco, where he is to oversee his favorite holiday, Cinco de Mayo. His South Beach restaurant's festivities begin early, and the chef is ready to participate. "I'll be at table 21 in a half-hour with a margarita in my hand."
Pagano, who also owns Naked Crab in Fort Lauderdale and Naked Lunch in Miami, has other, bigger news to share: His Naked Taco is opening at Resorts World in Bimini.
Pagano, who hosted a chef takeover at the resort/casino in the Bahamas a few years ago, describes the Bahamas outpost. "We will serve all things tacos, margaritas, and fun."
Naked Taco Bimini, scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend, will boast an open kitchen and a tequila bar. The 70 indoor seats will likely never be used because the venue also comes equipped with cabanas and a pool. In addition, the restaurant will offer something not found anywhere in Miami — its own sports booking window.
For Pagano, who is part owner of a racehorse, the marriage of tacos and gambling on an exotic island is a natural. "I was in Bimini and just noticed how beautiful it is. The idea of opening Naked Taco at Resorts has been in the works for a while, but now there's this idea of putting in a sports book."
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The island, which was the inspiration for Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, is a sportfishing dream, and Pagano plans to use the sea's bounty at his restaurant. "The menu will be virtually the same as in South Beach, with the addition of fresh seafood like conch, lobster, grouper, mahi, and snapper."
In addition, the chef, who calls Naked Taco "internationally known, nationally recognized, and locally accepted," plans to throw a massive weekend event at the resort in mid-July. "We're doing an eat, drink, and play experience where myself and a group of Miami's best chefs and bartenders will host the weekend." Activities include dinners, drinks, fishing, and (of course) gambling. Further details and pricing are being planned and will be announced at a later date. As Pagano puts it: "It's going to be tacos, tequila, and three team teasers."
Bimini, Miami's closest neighbor, is less than an hour by plane. Says the chef: "It takes me longer to get from Boca to Miami Beach than it does to get to the island."
In the meantime, Pagano plans to celebrate the news at his Naked Taco in South Beach, where it's Cinco de Mayo all day and all night. "There are dancing girls, a face painter painting sugar skulls, shot girls, a DJ, and margaritas flowing."
Till what time does this Cinco de Mayo celebration go? "Until we run out of tequila," Pagano says. "And I happened to order 100 cases yesterday."