Full disclosure: I was invited to Xochitl to try the food on the menu for a tasting. Any opinions are my own and do not represent the restaurant itself.
For Xochitl Cocina Mexicana owner, Jacqueline Gonzalez, opening her first restaurant has been a journey she never imagined. It all started on a trip to Europe, where Gonzlez witnessed a woman happily owning a cafe and thought to herself she wanted that life and to find that happiness. Gonzalez began looking for a location and a change in her life as a healthcare worker.
She looked at Armature Works, but couldn’t sign a lease with a multi-year wait and then decided on a spot across the street after hunting all over town for a location. After years of planning she finally was about to open her doors fully staffed in March of 2020. Then the pandemic hit.
Suddenly, Tampa was flipped upside down and the entire world was plunged into the COVID-19 pandemic. The journey since then has come with many changes and adjustments as things evolve. Initially, Gonzalez wanted a bigger menu instead of tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, but the pandemic forced changes that she never predicted.
Thankfully – it works. The menu at Xochitl is simple and yet delicious. It’s pulse on all the Mexican flavors you know and love with an attention to detail is fine-tuned. Take the steak tacos, any place can have them, but the ribeye and delicious cheese and other toppings truly make it delicious at Xochitl.
The carnitas blows my mind. Packed with delicious flavor unlike any other place I have enjoyed in Tampa. I almost forgot I was in Tampa for a minute.
The margaritas are truly the winners on the drink menu and aren’t packed with sour mixes or tons of sugar and salt. My favorite is the passionfruit, but the watermelon and strawberry are also incredibly delicious. I also like the spiciness in the Mezcalina.
Gonzalez told me during my visit, that one thing don’t people don’t realize about the pandemic for businesses is how it has disrupted supply distribution and with the rest of the world still battling thousands of daily COVID deaths and overfilled hospitals, sourcing for restaurants has been an intense challenge. Not to even mention government instability around the world and driver shortages.
Something as simple as tequila or avocados has become difficult for local restaurants to obtain and Gonzalez told me that during Cinco de Mayo, she had to put her foot down to make sure her tequila arrived for her celebration after one of the most difficult years the restaurant industry has ever faced.
Despite all the hardships and difficulties, you can tell Gonzalez loves what she does. She is prideful and clearly has a fighting spirit. No one can survive in this industry without that. She has no problem rolling up her sleeves with everyone else and seems to really love participating in every part of Xochitl from the Instagram page to the kitchen ideas bounced back and forth.
The Empanadas de Carnitas were some of the best I have ever enjoyed locally. The sauce was phenemonal and a home recipe inspired by the kitchen staff. One thing Gonzalez says she isn’t afraid of is to change things up if something better comes along. She admits many things about running a restaurant are trial and error, and she seeks to learn from others which is an important thing for a business owner to understand.
The Elote is excellent and I really enjoyed all the flavors on it. It’s been interesting seeing it on menus lately because I feel like so many restaurants were neglecting corn for so long, but it’s simple and delicious with the right ingredients.
Their Mexican Ceviche was also tasty and a good starter or shareable dish, I really enjoyed the shrimp and the chips that came with it. Ceviche is not the first thing I think of when I think of Mexican food, but the truth is Mexican food is so diverse, there are so many things I have never had – especially having never been to the country itself.
The freshness of the tacos is very welcome. Tampa has become quite the taqueria city in what was previously a scarcity of dives and chains. As more people move to Tampa, the demands go up, but keeping prices in line can be a challenge for a growing city. Gonzalez says she has a hard time sacrificing quality and has to make smart business calls, but will still not trade her quality.
One thing people argue about quite a bit on the internet is how much Mexican food should cost and how much it is worth. To me, the cost should reflect the value the food brings you. It is my opinion that the freshness of the food at Xochitl far exceeds what you normally see in a local Tampa Mexican restaurant.
That doesn’t mean there are no deals though. Xochitl happily participates in drink specials, happy hour, Taco Tuesday, and brunch. The restaurant seems to be a community partner and also has great live music that I happened to stumble upon during their anniversary. It was a toe tapper.
For those into current food trends, Xochitl also has birria tacos which have pretty much swallowed up Tampa at the moment. The birria dip is not too thick or greasy, but a delicious blend of flavors that I absolutely loved. I first had birria in San Francisco right as the trend was beginning to appear in news outlets such as Eater, and even I have been surprised at how it exploded.
There is dining available both inside and outside, it was comfortable outside although summer will likely bring rainstorms and showers. I would like to see Xochitl able to utilize the space outside even more. I think the pandemic highlighted al fresco dining that is underutilized by so many.The bar inside is beautiful as well and I definitely think there is potential for plenty of mixology events to be enjoyed there.
I am very interested in going back soon for more food. I wish I was a little closer since I relocated to Brandon from Seminole Heights, but Xochitl is very convenient for people who live in Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights, Downtown Tampa, or Ybor City. It’s very unassuming to those who may not know, but delicious food and drinks await you if you make the trip.
I recommend Xochitl Cocina Mexicana
Xochitl. 307 West Palm Avenue, Tampa, FL 33602. (833) 962-4485.