SANTA ROSA BEACH – A land where tacos grow on trees? Where tequila always wins?
The tagline from Jim Shirley’s latest restaurant may be laying the hyberbole on thick, but North Beach Tortilla Co. delivers on the good vibes.
Tacos? There are all kinds – Gulf grouper, chorizo, chicken, smoked pork, beef, roasted vegetables and refried beans.
Tequilla? The craft libations – highlighted by the house drink, the North Beach Margarita – flow like water with more than 100 tequilas to select from.
Location? The scene is idyllic, the open-air beach bar overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay with the restaurant located at the foot of the 331 bridge in Santa Rosa Beach.
True to its namesake, it’s a "North Florida taco and tequila joint" – just don’t be climbing any trees, and maybe sip on that tequila.
THE FOOD (AND DRINKS)
Aside from the general taco and tequila premise, North Beach Tortilla Co. promises cuisine that’s a mix of Spanish, Southwestern, and Florida — with a strong emphasis on fresh, made-from-scratch food using carefully sourced ingredients and authentic cooking methods.
It is, as described on the menu, South-by-Southwest flavors layered on the Gulf.
And how can you go to a tortilla company without indulging in, well, tortillas?
My guest and I began with those homemade tortillas in chip form, opting for salsa "showcasing fresh local tomatoes" and the queso sofrito topped with corn relish.
More on those later – after all, we had drinks to enjoy.
I opted for the aforementioned North Beach Margarita, which features Corazon Blanco, agave, Grand Marnier and fresh lime.
My guest opted for the more adventurous Poma Pineapple, which features Corazon Reposado, pineapple, bitters, pomegranate lime foam, basic and coriander salt.
Y’all, as they promised, "tequila always wins" at North Beach Tortilla Co.
My drink hit every note for a margarita. It was sweet, but not artificially so. It was fresh, bursting with lime. It was strong, the tequila smooth and perfect for sipping.
It was the perfect ratio.
More froufrou was my guest’s drink, which was layered with its ingredients. It was as my guest said, "almost too pretty too drink." Almost is the key word.
Happy over our drink orders, we opted for three orders of tacos – Gulf grouper, chorizo and smoked pork. We wanted an eclectic mix, and with each order came two tacos accompanied by black beans and white rice (the menu says cilantro lime rice, but ours was basic rice).
Enjoying the salsa that had a noticeable chipotle pepper kick and the thick queso that was more homage to Super Bowl queso than a traditional Mexican white cheese dip, the tacos came out within minutes.
With each, we opted for the additional toppings of grilled mango salsa, sliced fresh jalapeños and cotija cheese.
By far the star of the show was the Gulf grouper, which we chose blackened over the grilled and fried options. It was flaky and seasoned beautifully, everything you’d want in a fish taco.
The consensus No. 2 option was the smoked pork, which was tender and delivered on the smoky, meaty notes and proved the perfect counter to the mild fish. The chorizo, meanwhile, was a bit dry and underwhelming.
The vehicle for all three were fresh-made, corn tortillas – which proved delicate under the weight of the toppings and required more of a fork approach. Nonetheless, if you love corn tortillas, you’ll love these.
For fish lovers, another option is the grilled local grouper with achiote and holy basil rub, black rice and wilted arugula. Or feeling something fried? There’s the chimichanga that’s stuffed with smoked pork and Oaxaca cheese and topped with cilantro cream and pasilla tomato sauce.
The menu was limited but focused, the third entrée option is the fajitas with the choice of grilled skirt steak, Gulf shrimp or grilled chicken and come with roasted peppers, onions, fresh pico and flour tortillas.
For those who enjoy more of the tapas approach, starters include the aforementioned chips and salsa and queso sofrito, house-made guacamole, quesadillas, tamales, pork rinds, street corn and shishito chilaquiles.
As for the dessert lovers, there are three gluten-free options in blood orange pie, a coconut cream tostada and churros, which come with Mexican chocolate and hazelnut mousse and your choice of cinnamon sugar or chili spice. We were far to full to partake, but the churros have received rave reviews.
Ultra laid back with its deck offering but hip and fresh with its clean white aesthetic, the North Beach Tortilla Co. is both a great date night spot and a chill place to meet friends.
And those expansive Choctawhatchee Bay views? Can’t beat them.
From the attentiveness of the host to the service of our waiter, it’s all top notch.
The bartenders, true to North Beach Tortilla Co.’s premise, know how to make a drink. And the appetizers and tacos both came out immediately, no lag despite a packed house.
A FINAL TASTE
If you’re craving expansive water views, a well-crafted drink and some finger foods to share, this spot is right up your alley.
I’d love to go back and explore the starters menu – more specifically the quesadilla, street corn, pork rinds, tamales and red-chili guava wings.