Cheap Eats

West Kendall's Tacos & Tattoos Exhibits Art on Plates and Walls

As tacos continue to have their moment in Miami, West Kendall joins the craze with buzzing newcomer Tacos & Tattoos, located at 10720 SW 113th Place. Jonathan Cruz and his family are at the helm of this cozy 30-seater that promotes food and culture. Think bumping music, walls splashed with graffiti, and a fresh twist to traditional Mexican eats. “It’s New American-style cuisine with Caribbean influences,” Cruz says.

The name of the restaurant originated from Cruz’s concept of a taco truck parked directly in front of a tattoo shop with which he and his friends were closely affiliated. Though the name "Tacos & Tattoos" stuck, the food truck idea turned brick-and-mortar once Cruz and his family found a spot whose size was manageable.

“We kept the name because people raise an eyebrow,” he says. “They’re killed with curiosity and want to find out what the tattoo concept has to do with tacos, which led them through my door. All those people who’ve come with curiosity have ended up coming back.”

The tacos themselves aren’t the supersize kind found at other Magic City spots. Several bites of just one and it’s gone. But they're masterfully composed. The subtly flavored corn shell and its bright, robust fillings and piquant flavors will stay with you. The shells come in three styles: crisp, corn or flour. Cruz recommends the corn because it has less starch and holds more flavor. Bits of melted cheese are added to the protein of your choice — churrasco ($3.75), shrimp ($3.75), Buffalo chicken ($3.50), regular chicken ($2.75), portobello mushroom ($3), pork ($3), or tofu ($3) — and dabs of pico de gallo, homemade sauces, and a delightful pineapple coleslaw finish the plate.

Another bestseller is the crisp patacon, a perfectly fried green plantain, which sells for $5.50 to $6.50 depending upon the protein. Pay $2 extra, get the patacon loaded with a decadent brick of queso frito. The T&T Platter, or “222” ($12.50), lets guests sample two churrasco rellenos, two cheese quesadillas, and two chicken tacos. Desserts include the T&T Nutella doughnut ($6), a fluffy pocket filled with indulgent Nutella glaze, and the deep fried Oreos ($5), served with vanilla ice cream, and are as sinful as they sound.

Adorned with artwork by a collaboration of local and international artists, Tacos & Tattoos has churned out a seemingly an endless stream of tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and other simple yet modern takes on Mexican/Caribbean-inspired chow in its first year. Cruz plans to open a larger space a few doors down from the original location this February. The new space, which is double the size of the current spot, will feature a much larger dining area, a bar, and a stage. “We listen to rock ’n' roll but still make great food,” Cruz says. “We’re degenerates with degrees. It’s an indescribable atmosphere that we will soon get to share with more people.”

Tacos & Tattoos is open Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12:30 to 10 p.m. Chicken and pork tacos go for $2 each Taco Tuesday.

And if you're wondering: Yes, you can get a tattoo at the end of your meal. It’s washable, though.

“I’m working on something to provide for my family; this is all my family right here,” Cruz says. “It’s been a blessing to put a taboo kind of culture together, combine it with food, and bring a light to Kendall.”

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Maureen Aimee Mariano is a freelance food writer for Miami New Times. She earned a bachelor of science in journalism from the University of Florida before making her way back to the 305, the city that first fueled her insatiable appetite.