Cafe Havana – Two Peppers

Cafe Havana offers incredible food, fast service, and a great value. Conveniently located to downtown, Cafe Havana is a great place to stop for lunch or pick something up and head back to the office. The menu offers a several choices, any of which are delicious. For me, it’s yellow rice and black beans. I keep saying I’ll try the yucca, but the plantains are as sweet as hard candy. I even have to pick them out of my teeth in the same manner. So yummy!

The Cafe is just that a cafe. It’s a speed line with a cooler full of drinks and a choice of one meat, rice, beans, and plantains or yucca. All at a reasonable price. After a short wait in line, you’ll make your selections. Then find a seat. I recommend ordering to go, just in case you can’t finish. Trust me. You’ll want to take the rest home.

Cafe Havana is one of the few places in Ocala, perhaps Central Florida, that carries Ironbeer, a softdrink a light cream soda taste. Cuba’s national beverage hasn’t changed its original flavor since it was introduced in 1917. I like it. It’s light, sweet, caffine-free and made in Miami.

Cafe Havana also has flaky pastries with a sweet guava jelly inside. Try the one with jelly and cream cheese. Relax is comfortable rattan chairs at simple tables while enjoying these dainty treats. Come early for breakfast.

Most Cuban restaurants pride themselves on their pressed Cuban sandwiches. The Cafe has a couple. Unfortunately, this is where my expertise stops. It’s not that I don’t like a good mixto; I just don’t like what a grocery store calls a Cuban sandwich. So I am looking for an expert to take me on a week long tour of Ocala’s best Mixtos. Then I’ll update my review of Cafe Havana.

For now, drive as far as your work break allows to find this little slice of Cuba’s capitol. It’s healthier than and more tasty than McDonalds, and perhaps just as fast.

823 N. Magnolia Ave. Ste 300
Ocala, FL 34475

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Published in: | on July 21st, 2008 | Comments Off on Cafe Havana – Two Peppers

Pepe’s – Three Peppers

Pepe’s is probably a 2 pepper restaurant. In fact, it’s a great place for lunch with friends or co-workers. It has a typical menu with a few specialties. But Pepe’s offers something more.

What makes this a great restaurant for a date is the mystique. This is one of those special gems, where you have to have a password to get in. A friend whispers the directions. You wear sunglasses for the drive over. So Romeo’s here’s your line: “You like Mexican food? I know a great little place.”

Let me explain. Pepe’s is a grocery store, complete with cereal, meat, fresh bread, and cd’s from Mexican bands. But in the back of the store, past the bread, and an invisible barrier that scares the Olive Garden crowd away, and just about the time your date grabs your arm, you’ll be seated in a tastefully decorated restaurant with delicious food.

Pepe’s offers a mix of Mexican dishes from tacos and enchiladas to savory meat and Spanish rice. The recipes are very authentic with a personal twist. Refried beans come with a crumble of queso for color and flavor. I had a great dish with steak slathered in a spicy tomato sauce. Warm corn tortillas came on the side.

The salsa is fresh and spicy. Not too hot, with plenty of onion and cilantro. The chips are thick and crunchy and go perfectly with a glass of horchata, a sweet rice water beverage. Pepe’s is knows for having particularly good horchata. If you want to go all the way to Mexico, try the syrupy guava juice. It comes with a glance from the waitress. I think I heard the kitchen stop when I ordered it.

I always get the sense that this is a big family operation, because the servers are so friendly. They will happily explain anything on the menu. Their accent and tone is very reassuring for those who gave up bread sticks and marinara.

Go to Pepe’s. Have an adventure. Travel to a little store on the outskirts of town. And step into a delicious world all its own.

7915 W Highway 40
Ocala, FL 34482
Google location is incorrect. Take 40 past I-75. On right, before intersection of SW 80 Ave.
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Published in: | on July 19th, 2008 | Comments Off on Pepe’s – Three Peppers

El Taxco – 2 Peppers

With any Mexican restaurant you run the risk of creating menus that have the same 5 items rearranged into different combinations. To my surprise and pleasure, El Taxco is more than big bean plates and drink specials. They balance the usual numbered combo’s with fancier modern Mexican dishes. By modern, I mean using traditional ingredients, but departing just enough to give the dish new interest. Case in point, my pollo tropico plate had beans, rice, and glazed chicken breast topped with pineapple chunks. Delicious.

The expansive menu includes enchilada and taco combos, as well as chicken, steak, and seafood dishes. The full bar provides plenty of domestic and import beers. On tap brews can come in an impressive 32 ounce glass. Lunch portions are a little smaller and priced accordingly, but only available till 3pm.

The salsa is tasty and fresh. It is served in a small carafe to refill your dipping bowl and accompanied by a basket of crunchy tortilla chips. The salsa is far from ketchup, but almost as smooth. It is a puree. Thankfully it has enough cilantro. I recommend ordering the queso, a white American cheese served melty and flavored with a little jalapeño for a spicy kick. By the way, queso is where nacho cheese comes from. Sadly, something was lost when it was translated over to the movie theater and bowling alley.

Everything is big at El Taxco. It is possibly the largest Mexican restaurant in Ocala. It is divided into standalone tables, booths, a full bar, and pool table area. There’s still plenty of room. The walls are decorated in Mexican folk style depicting a border town. Each booth sits at a house complete with a mock Spanish tile awning. The feeling is fun and relaxed. El Taxco is perfect for large groups, especially lunch with co-workers. My dinner party of 7 was seated immediately. I also saw couples tucked away in their booths.

We received our food promptly. A mistake in the order was corrected quickly with compliments of the house. Our server was friendly and kept our drinks filled and chips stocked, but she seemed a bit overwhelmed by the 5 page menu. I can’t blame her, I was still overwhelmed by my friend’s 32 ounce beer.

4901 E Silver Spgs Blvd # 800
Ocala, FL 34470

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Published in: | on May 23rd, 2008 | Comments Off on El Taxco – 2 Peppers

Ay Jalisco – 2 Peppers

With an enchanting and almost whimsical atmosphere, Ay Jalisco offers great Mexican food in large portions. This a fine place to take a friends for lunch. You can split anything on the menu. The prices are reasonable.

They offer burritos, enchiladas, and tacos. Also they have a good flan and fried ice cream. Yum!

The salsa is mild and comforting. It is made from a tomato paste base, with perhaps mixed vegetables pureed into the mix for a hearty taste. It’s different and not quite ketchup.

Since this is still a new restaurant (only a year old), it still has that start up feel. The servers work hard to make sure your experience is a good one.

The atmosphere is quiet and intimate. There are plenty of seating options to accommodate any size party, whether dining alone or taking business lunch with the whole office.

Published in: | on April 22nd, 2008 | Comments Off on Ay Jalisco – 2 Peppers

Latinos y Mas – Three Peppers

I simply cannot recommend this restaurant any higher. I take my wife here for special occasions. Sometimes we just go for lunch. The menu offers plenty of choices of North American Mexican dishes, as well as South American Columbian dishes. Perhaps their is no real line, but I divide the menu like I would at a fine restaurant — steak on one side, hamburgers on the other.

So too with Latinos y Mas. The Columbian dishes have more of the old world influence with black beans and yellow rice. While the Mexican dishes are typical of other Mexican restaurants and consist of ground beef, refried beans, and enchilada sauce, and always come in large cheesy portions.

You should know that I have never ordered the same dish twice, and I have never been disappointed. Each and every dish has been excellent. So far my personal favorites have been pollo con arroz, a savory chicken served in yellow rice with bell peppers, and pollo something I can’t remember, a flattened chicken breast that is breaded with coconut and served with a sweet glaze.

As soon as you are seated, expect tortilla chips and fresh salsa compliments of the house. The second order is added to your bill. The salsa is the finest quality. Fresh tomatoes, onions, and cilantro make a crisp, light taste that will have you double dipping in no time. It uses chopped tomatoes as a base, instead of tomato paste.

The decor is simple and clean. Booths and tables are available. The dining area is cramped, but can accommodate larger groups easily. If there are any shortcomings, I’ve only noticed when dining in a pair during lunch rush.

The servers are always friendly and sharp looking in their bright white shirts. Most speak English very well.

2030 S Pine Ave
Ocala, FL 34471

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Published in: | on April 22nd, 2008 | Comments Off on Latinos y Mas – Three Peppers

Taco N Madre – Two Peppers


This restaurant with a baffling name started only slightly larger than a taco stand, but now has an updated dining area. The food is excellent. They use cilantro instead of iceberg lettuce, steak instead of ground beef, flavorful rice, and their own horchada. They also have a cooler of imported Mexican soft drinks.

They offer two sauces – green and red. Green is like a tomatilla with a fresh, tangy flavor. Red has a rich, smoky flavor. Both have plenty of heat. Gringos, go sparingly your first time, but try both. Overdue pregnant women, pour on both until the baby kicks his way out.

The servers are friendly and prompt.  The dining area is bright, cheerful, and  decorated with sombreros and wall hangings, including the portrait of a Mexican revoltionary. The TV suspended in the corner let’s you  catch up on your daytime Spanish soap opera or cheer for the soccer game on Sunday afternoons.

Speaking of Sunday, that’s the best time to try their signature dishes of an untypical cactus or a whole fish that’s deep-fried for a crunchy crust and flaky, tender middle.

Taco N Madre is a great place for a quick lunch with a friend or coworker. It’s close to downtown, across from the court house. No chips or salsa here, but it was 5th visit before I noticed.

Best Item: Quesadilla, perhaps the best in town.
Worst  Item:  Sopes, great for healthy eaters. But, I prefer the simple flat tortilla.

80 NW Pine Ave
Ocala, FL 34475

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Published in: | on December 18th, 2007 | Comments Off on Taco N Madre – Two Peppers

Taco Bell – One Pepper

Taco Bell LogoI knew sooner or later someone would ask, “what about Taco Bell?” So, let’s get it out of the way. Basically this is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to authentic Mexican food. Most of the menu items do not have Mexican names. The only reason you should eat here is because there are no other Mexican restaurants within walking distance or (if you have a car) you don’t have enough time to sit down for a meal.

Taco Bell is like the unofficial board of Mexican culture and tourism. White people take their kids to show them what Dora and Diego eat. Sadly, Swiper stole all the flavor and replaced it with packets of spicy ketchup that come in three levels of heat – tangy, acidic and battery.

That said, Taco Bell does offer cheap tacos and they stay open pretty late. Which is good if your sister’s family just arrived from the airport and your 2nd shift ends 10 minutes before they arrive at your house.

Also, Taco Bell uses a flour tortilla that never falls apart. Their restaurants are located everywhere, even in KFC, PizzaHut, A&W, Pepsi outlets.

Best Item: Steak Soft Taco Supreme and Bean Burrito
Worst Item: That bean burrito later that night.

Published in: | on December 18th, 2007 | Comments Off on Taco Bell – One Pepper
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