COLLEGE PARK – It could be all that red-hot sauce that does the trick.
Or maybe it’s those delectable fish tacos. It’s hard to say.
Whatever the specific reason is, one thing is clear: finding customers is not a problem that the folks at Tijuana Flats grapples with much these days. In fact, if you’ve hit their numerous locations in Central Florida — including the ones at Thornton Park or College Park – around lunch time, you know the line resembles a ball game at Yankee Stadium or Orlando International Airport’s security lines around the holidays.
But why so many people crowd here around lunch time isn’t a mystery, either. No pun intended, but the key to operating a really successful restaurant is …. well, finding the right ingredients.
“The ‘Short story,’ ” the chain’s web site notes, is that “Back in 1995, a college kid with absolutely no restaurant experience decided he wanted to open a restaurant – a Tex-Mex restaurant. Everyone thought he was a little crazy, but it turns out that’s just what the restaurant landscape needed at the time – the weird, the wild, the insanely great food of Tijuana Flats.”
You might enjoy the ambiance inside the restaurant as well, including the artwork showing cats downing the hot sauce available there – and literally blowing their tops from the volcanic explosion in their mouths.
That’s not an exaggeration – one thing you’ll notice if you become a regular at Tijuana Flats is that no matter what kind of drink you order – soda, iced tea, lemonade or simply water – you’re going to get a very tall glass. I suspect that’s for a good reason, because unsuspecting newcomers who are not sure just how hot those sauces are will soon be grasping frantically for their drink to quench the fire in their mouth. Yes, folks, those dark sauces are geared toward transforming your tongue with a flame-filled explosion.
In fact, the artwork on the Tijuana Flats walls make a note of this, calling the restaurant’s philosophy “The anything goes approach to food, wall art, hot sauce and life in general,” and offering this bit of advice to customers: “Eat what you like, how you like it, as hot as you like it.” Well said.
That’s one reason why Tijuana Flats encourages its customers to become “Flatheads,” or fans of their unique brand of Tex-Mex meals.
“Be a Flathead,” the web site notes. ”Kinda like a frat. Except without the hazing. Join & get insider news, discounts, free stuff, and more free stuff. Sign up right here, right now” at Tijuana Flats. (Once you’ve submitted your information, you’ll get a notice that reads, “Congrats, you’re a Flat Head. Now go tell everyone!”)
The menu offers an appealing selection of appetizers that include chips and guacamole, chips and handmade salsa, and chips and Queso, and entrees that include burritos, Chimichangas, Crispy Quesadillas, Fish Tacos – my favorite – Norrito Bowls, and Tostadas.
There are also specials like the Bangin’ Chicken Burrito, the Bangin’ Chicken Salad, and the Dos Bangin’ Chicken Tacos. For the “Happy Endings” dessert, try the Cookie Dough Flautas.
From the restaurants modest beginning, Tijuana Flats now has 72 locations, including quite a few in Greater Orlando. Two of the best are in Thornton Park at 8 N. Summerlin Ave. (call 407-649-8063 to learn more) and in College Park at 2217 Edgewater Drive (call 407-425-4762 for details.) Not only are they both great places for lunch or dinner, but they’re also in terrific locations for an afternoon of window shopping and outdoor walking.
The chain is expanding rapidly, and has other locations coming soon, including new restaurants in Boca Raton, Miami, Gainesville, Jacksonville and Stuart. Tijuana Flats truly gets around.
For good reasons, though. This restaurant offers an irresistible combination of freshly made Tex-Mex meals, funky décor to check out, and those amazingly red-red hot sauces that will burn the roof of your mouth. You can also get tons of entertainment value just from reading the names of the sauces, from the Tear Jerkers to the Death Wish titles like “Endorphin Rush,” “You Can’t Handle This Hot Sauce,’ and “Da’Bomb Ground Zero.” Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Tijuana Flats might also serve as an inspiration to some other young entrepreneur who thinks they have a brilliant idea for a local café with some special twists. In the meantime, Tijuana Flats fills the bill nicely, thank you, and truly knows how to deliver those Fish Tacos with irresistibly tasty style and panache.
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