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Cinco Tacos + Tequila

Written By Scott Joseph On November 13, 2018

Cinco exterior

I’m not going to use valet service to go to a taco joint. I’m just not.

But twice when I first tried to visit Cinco Tacos + Tequila, a Winter Park restaurant that includes actor Mario Lopez and former NSYNCer Chris Kirkpatrick among its backers, valeting was the only parking option. All available open spaces were blocked off so that dropping the car off was the only option. I don’t care if it’s complimentary — it’s a freaking taco joint.

So I waited until the newness wore off (it opened in late July) and made a midweek visit when there were some self parking options. There was still a valet guy there but he looked bored. Probably because the restaurant was nearly empty. Had the newness worn off that much? Or had the people who jammed it on those opening weeks come to realize what I soon would, that you can get better tacos and variations on Mexican food elsewhere?

South Steel SJO March AD copy

Cinco 5

Cinco wall

CT+T took over the building that was vacated in January by Carmel Kitchen Wine Bar. The interior has been completely redone and somehow seems smaller. That might be due to a rather blocky rectangular cuboid that defines a center row of booths, the canopy of which appears to be artificial turf strewn with stones. (The wall on the outside of the building appears to be in need of mowing, too.) The room is not unattractive and is minimally decorated, if you overlook a huge Aztecan mural on one wall. The designer made better use of brick walls and lighting and a large but subtle 5 etched into frosted glass inside the front door.

The menu makes no claim to authentic Mexican cuisine, or even Tex-Mex. Thankfully, not even Flori-Mex (am I the only one who doesn’t miss Paco’s?). Instead, it offers Cali-Mex.

What’s the difference? It’s debatable but in general you’re probably not going to find melted cheeses on top of entrees. Also, as has become stereotypical of California cuisine, the ingredients might tend to be more healthful, or as healthful as a taco can be.

I would think, though, that even in trying to be less gloppy, Cinco would strive to make its food more flavorful. And although healthful might also be interpreted to mean smaller portions, it shouldn’t have to mean chintzy. Unfortunately, much of what I had on my dinner visit was unexciting and bland. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good, like fill-the-parking-lot, wait-listed good.

Cinco has adopted the decidedly Tex-Mexican practice of offering complimentary chips and salsa upon seating. Chips were plain but ungreasy; the salsa could have used some oomph.

Cinco fundido

My friends and I started with an appetizer of Queso Fundido con Chorizo, a blend of chihuahua and white cheddar cheeses with a few bits of sausage. Too thick for a dip, it’s meant to be spooned onto warm tortillas. More than two tortillas would have been nice for our table of four.

Cinco belly

We shared an assortment of tacos. The Korean BBQ Pork Belly was the table’s favorite. The pork belly had a pleasant unctuousness, and the pickled onions and gochujang sauce made it the most flavorful thing we tasted.

Cinco shrimp

The Baja Fish tacos were shrimp, two to a tortilla, with a cilantro-lime slaw. The protein seemed insufficient.

Cinco carnitas

The Carnitas Tacos were a study in minimalism. Each order of tacos (3 for $15) came with a side of rice and beans. Black beans, because Cali-Mex doesn’t recognize refried beans and its lard.

Cinco rita

Tequila being the plus in the name, I also tried the Cinco Rita, one of 11 ritas, marga on the drinks list. Made with Hornitos Plata tequila and Patron Citronge, it was nice and tangy thanks to a lime squeeze.

Our server was pleasant but seemed cautious when replying to questions. Management was present but I don’t think it was either Lopez or the boyband boy. Can’t be sure. Lopez has been to the restaurant at least once since it opened, and he tweeted to his followers about “my new restaurant” when it opened. But the celebrity association is kept low key.

Then again, so is the food.

Cinco Tacos + Tequila is at 140 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-725-7100.

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