Alma Mexicana (Soul of Mexico) is hidden in plain on Washington Avenue, its sign obscured by palm fronds. But those in the know are keeping this fast-casual spot busy serving home-style fare beneath the gaze of a Frida Kahlo-like beauty whose photos adorn the walls.
The menu offers tacos, burritos, tostadas, tortas (sandwiches on crusty rolls) and combo plates that come with rice, refried beans, guacamole and pico de gallo.
Owner Elliot Tarin manages and sources ingredients, and his brother Edmundo cooks. They grew up in a restaurant family in Chihuahua, Mexico, not far from El Paso, Texas, and came to Miami two years ago. It took them eight months to remodel the former tattoo parlor before they opened a year ago.
Place an order at the counter, hit the salsa bar, and fill small cups with house-made red, green or fiery habanera sauce plus pickled jalapeños and carrots. Orders arrive fast. Start the day with huevos rancheros, scrambled eggs with chorizo or bacon or a breakfast burrito, or snack on antojites (appetizers) including a single chile relleno or enchilada, nachos and quesadillas.
House specialties are Baja-style tostados topped with lime-marinated ceviche with cilantro; fish tacos with crisp fingers of breaded and cleanly fried tilapia stuffed in double corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, mayo and salsa, and the California burrito rolled up with beans, steak, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa and fries. Carnitas are crisp cubes of pork slowly fried with garlic and orange juice, served as a plate or in tacos and burritos.
There are no desserts, but the prices (nothing over $12) are sweet.