The goods: Out with the pricey steakhouses, in with casual comfort food. Thus begins 2010 in Miami’s restaurant scene. And here to lead the way is El Scorpion Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, a stylish taco joint housed in the former Tuscan Steak space. It’s the first restaurant project of Zach Chodorow, son of China Grill Management’s restaurant guru Jeffrey Chodorow. There’s a rock and roll vibe to the place, with 130 tequilas available ranging from standbys like Patron and Jose Cuervo to pricey oak barrel-aged vintages from the 1940’s. So expect plenty of margaritas here, including tableside margarita service complete with fresh squeezed lime juice and cocktail shaker presentation.
Ambiance: The spacious dining room is comfortable for big parties or informal dates, with semicircular booths and pillars clad in Aztec graffiti chalk designs. There’s also a pool table in a back room and large flat screens beaming sports programming.
The grub: Regional Mexican cuisine. Prices are higher than a fast food Mexican joint, but not by much: tacos are $3.50, guacamoles $9-$12, salsas and snacks $5-$14 and mains $17-$26. Don’t come here expecting fajitas and burritos. “This isn’t Tex-Mex,” says Chodorow. It’s authentic South of the Border food, stuff you might find in a roadside tavern in Oxaca.
Start off with one of the freshly-pounded guacamoles made at the open “guacamole bar” in the back of the dining room. The chunky avocado dips are prepared five different ways including the classically – with lime, cilantro and tomato – or “Elvis” style with crispy bits of bacon and garlic. Each order comes with a brown paper bag of warm corn chips made in house. The four salsas are also made to order, including a fruity “borracha” made with pineapple, mint, jalapeno and tequila. If you’re looking for a Mexican take on spicy peanut butter and jelly go for the platter of masa cakes – small fried discs of cornmeal dough – topped with four different spreads: a smoky peanut butter spiced with chipotle, a sweet blackberry jam, a strawberry-jalapeno spread or the fiery pineapple-habanero preserve. Other snacks include the “elote asado” a grilled corn on the cob slathered with chili, lime and cream. Tacos include a fried tilapia, grilled steak and a bacon variety made with pork from Benton’s Bacon, a farm in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Smaller mains include enchiladas and quesadillas while larger plates encompass a grilled half chicken and fried pork ribs topped with a musky mole. There are half a dozen different margaritas to choose from but you can’t go wrong with the Serrano Daisy, a racy mix of El Jimador Reposado tequila, agave nectar, lime juice and Serrano chile.
Verdict: Fresh-pounded guacamole, rare tequilas and bacon tacos take center stage at this new Mexican saloon in the old Tuscan Steak space.