Taco ’bout it: Two casual St. Pete restaurants are expanding to Tampa

What do Casita Taqueria and The Lure have in common besides St. Pete? Guess.

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click to enlarge Casita Taqueria is bringing its newest and third location to the Seminole Heights area of Tampa. - Ryan Ballogg
Ryan Ballogg
Casita Taqueria is bringing its newest and third location to the Seminole Heights area of Tampa.

Two casual dining experiences native to St. Petersburg will soon be available to guests on the other side of the bay. Both taco slingers, Mexican mainstay Casita Taqueria and eclectic hangout The Lure are preparing to launch Tampa locations in the coming months.

The pair are the latest in a line of local food and drink businesses prospering enough to open additional locations in Hillsborough, which include Kahwa Coffee, Trip’s Diner and The Mill.

Opened more than a year ago at 661 Central Ave., the well-received Lure from partners Michael Stewart, Richard Alday and Tom Golden carries a diverse menu that covers sushi, salads, tacos, tapas and flatbreads. Chef Golden is generous with flavorful sauces, topping dishes with butters, mustards, vinaigrettes and salsas of all kinds. But another type of generosity is reflected in the donation of $1 from every flatbread sold to charities chosen by the chefs who dreamed them up.

The Lure has aimed to be a fun place to hang out for the night as well, whipping up tiki drinks and other custom cocktails in addition to offering billiards without the bar smoke.

click to enlarge The 600 Block Lure is also headed for Tampa — South Tampa to be exact. - Ryan Ballogg
Ryan Ballogg
The 600 Block Lure is also headed for Tampa — South Tampa to be exact.

The restaurant’s new location at 2402 S. MacDill Ave., formerly home to taco and tequila bar Catrinas, will provide the successes of their first outpost — including that laid-back ambiance — to South Tampa patrons. The partners, who jumped at the chance to snag the under-renovation space, are replacing about 90 percent of the 2,700-square-foot building. Around 80 seats are slated inside, while the patio will have room for 20 to 30.

Here, where an opening is scheduled for mid-summer, Tampa chefs will create the bill of fare's flatbreads to support their charities of choice. Otherwise, the offerings will remain the same. But the struggle for perfection does continue for Golden; he recently killed the attention-grabbing grasshopper tacos because they weren't up to his standards.

"I'm forever going to try to achieve the perfect menu, and I always feel like I'm failing," Golden said. "It's not there yet, so I keep working at it."

He and his staff experiment with new ideas frequently, taking feedback from inside and outside of the kitchen.

"There's a lot of democracy in my kitchen," the chef said.

Casita Taqueria’s third locale is set to open at 6707 N. Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights. The popular flagship debuted in 2011 on St. Pete’s Fourth Street, temporarily closing in 2014 due to the arrival of a Trader Joe’s grocery store. It relocated across the road and reopened in 2015, though another location premiered to the Grand Central District in 2014 in the meantime.

At the start, Casita owners Don and Gwen Arvin and business partner Andy Hobbs developed a menu that reflected the Arvins’ favorite parts about dining during their travels to the Pacific Northwest. Casita’s lineup, spotlighting a quick and fresh take on Mexican cuisine, has held its own among the likes of Red Mesa, Taco Bus and Burrito Boarder in St. Pete.

The wife-and-husband duo searched for the right Tampa location for more than a year before settling on the Graham Building end cap at the corner of Florida Avenue and East Minnehaha Street. It’s also near one of their favorite restaurants: New American eatery Rooster & the Till.

“We love the community over there. It’s a great food scene,” Don said. He and Gwen feel that the neighborhood is where their restaurant’s demographic is, too.

When the new Casita opens, sometime between August and December, diners can expect the same experience they get in St. Pete — menu items like tacos featuring made-from-scratch soft tortillas, signature bowls prepared with fresh ingredients, and domestic and imported cervezas among them.

A small patio and indoor dining area will allow for around 80 seats, and depending on how the Seminole Heights Casita is received, according to Don, there could be more Bay area restaurants in their future.

“We’re excited to be over there,” he said. “We’ll be connecting with a whole new group of people.”

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