The reopening that couldn’t come fast enough for St. Petersburg taco maniacs finally happened on May 23. After almost five months, Casita Taqueria, which was formerly housed along Fourth Street North where a Trader Joe’s will be by the end of the year, launched in its repurposed Grand Central District space. Diehard diners showed up in herds and braved long lines on the restaurant’s grand reopening day, and the need for Casita’s inventive, homemade flavor didn’t stop throughout the weekend. The new Casita has open-air dining areas like the previous locale, as well as indoor table and bar seating. Reclaimed wood, industrial lighting and various art pieces make up the restaurant’s decor, and its bill of fare still includes daily specials and fresh products. With big, inviting letters on the building spelling out “BEER” and “TACOS,” coming home to Casita was impossible to resist.
Order a pint at the bar (there are 14 taps to choose from) and stroll into 3 Daughters Brewing’s warehouse, near the tasting room’s staircase, where drinking games are encouraged. The open floor plan allows craft brew enthusiasts and first-timers to imbibe and play while taking in the scenery — a 30-barrel brewhouse. Cornhole, life-sized Jenga and Connect Four, two ping-pong tables, darts, chess, checkers, tabletop shuffleboard and an 18-hole mini golf course make 3 Daughters a Toyland for grown-ups. It’s truly a boozy recreationalist’s paradise.
The arepa, for those of you who didn’t know, is a Colombian or Venezuelan cornmeal pancake. It can be sweet but it’s usually unsweetened, and it is often eaten hot with melted white cheese. El Chuzo’s Arepa Rellena (stuffed arepa) is a quintessential item on their menu (along with their famous hamburger) and a great rendition of authentic Colombian street food. You have the option of getting it with shredded beef (ropa vieja), shredded pork or chicken — the best part is the yummy pink sauce it comes with, which we suspect is a mix of ketchup and mayo. Then you get to choose from some amazing, very authentic sides.
Runners Up: Einstein Bros Bagels, Clearwater Bagels
Runners Up: Jamison B. Breadhouse Bakes, Alessi Bakery
The Hub is interesting in the daytime. It really shines at 2 a.m., though, as you and all of your closest booze-swilling friends collectively experience the sway that comes standard with your third or fourth Maker’s on the rocks. Standing firm behind that iconic horseshoe bar are the familiar faces of resilient bartenders (plus head barback Charles Fox) who put up with package requests, indecipherable orders for a “ffdkah, soooduh,” and the absolutely horrendous dancing by the girl and guy who are probably going to scrump after getting reacquainted at their 20-year high school reunion. The Hub staff deserves gold medals (or at least a weekend off from our debauchery), but we’re cheap, so we’ll give ’em a nice framed piece of paper to show our appreciation.
Runners Up: Urban Brew and BBQ, Sonny's BBQ