Cali Tacos expands surfer eats to St. Pete's Fourth Street

St. Petersburg will get its own San Diego-inspired taco shack from California Tacos To Go.

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click to enlarge The third Cali Tacos is in the former Valentino's space on Fourth Street North. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
The third Cali Tacos is in the former Valentino's space on Fourth Street North.

After opening its second location in South Tampa near the end of August, the Tampa-based California Tacos To Go is set to launch its third in St. Petersburg Wednesday.

At 1003 Fourth St. N., the new Cali Tacos is nestled in the old 13,000-square-foot Valentino's Little Italy spot, which closed in May.

Co-owner Chris Nelsen — who, along with co-owner Greg Lynn, has a corporate restaurant background — said Cali Tacos serves about 175 to 250 people per day at its two eateries. According to Nelsen, he and Lynn are "always looking for the next place that will fit." They've been eyeing St. Pete for a while.

"Just the look of [the building] spoke to us," said Nelsen, who added that the locale's in a desirable area, walkable and close to downtown.

Cali Tacos has cooked San Diego-style Mexican cuisine, including fish tacos and loaded Cali fries, since 2009, forming its own kind of groove, and following, among a number of other taco destinations.

And St. Pete neighborhoods like Kenwood and Old Northeast don't have a shortage of Mexican joints, which a friend noted to this editor last week. It's take your pick, really.

You'll hit El Gallo Grande on the southern end of Fourth Street as well as Burrito Border and Red Mesa Cantina in the heart of downtown. Red Mesa Mercado, Taco Bus, Nitally's and Casita Taqueria are to the west if you're headed north on Third Street, where Chipotle, Tijuana Flats, Taco Bell and Red Mesa aren't too far away.

St. Pete's morphed into a taco haven it seems. And that's why, Nelsen said, Cali Tacos will do well. He said several Mexican-influenced options means people enjoy the cuisine, and Cali Tacos has its own take, flavorful and versatile.

Nelsen and Lynn's latest site, headed by general manager Masahiko Knight, will carry a similar SoCal-inspired vibe as the others. The South Tampa spot's menu (a little different than the original's on Skipper Road), with items like portabella tacos, will be offered in St. Pete alongside daily and weekly specials.

Picnic tables will accommodate 26 people outside, and 24 inside. Nelsen talked of impromptu gatherings à la tailgating that started to happen at the Skipper Road eatery after Cali Tacos integrated picnic-table seating. Some diners eat together and throw around footballs, he said. High-tops will be available out front, too.

Inside, the blue concrete floor boasts a wavey texture to resemble water. There are light strings and wooden surfboards hand-cut by Lynn and Nelsen hanging in the dining room, as well as a chalkboard wall and shack-style order window outfitted with shutters that open and close.

Cali Tacos is small, Lynn said, so from the food to the decor, he likes to keep it affordable.

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