I had never been to this Fourth Street Mexican eatery but had heard good things. A little background check revealed this restaurant has two locations. Although the newer downtown St. Pete cantina looks more colorful, with its lively outdoor courtyard and spiffy Latin-influenced interior, I heard the food is solid at the original. It was.
We ordered a couple of Dos Equis and asked the waitress if the calamari was fresh. After the Irish calamari calamity in New York, I wasn't taking any chances on freezer squid. She said it wasn't frozen, so we ventured in that direction.
Coated in a light, tasty batter, the Calamari Frito was tender and tasted fresh. The two dipping sauces that came with it -- one a habanero and the other a chipotle chili aioli -- provided a welcome Mexican spin and a break from the usual squirt of lemon. The habanero mixture was a sinus-draining concoction that Sister F. and I loved. The smokey aioli was good, too.
For the lunch mains, Sister selected a burrito and I stuck with the seafood theme with Shrimp Salteado. This Mexican plate was a mouthwatering preparation of sauteed shrimp with rajas (a saute of chiles and onions), Spanish chorizo, tomatoes, mushrooms and potatoes, all cooked with a splash of sherry and finished with pasilla chile sauce. Thanks to the diverse population living in the Tampa area, I count my lucky stars for having the good fortune to discover this type of authentic Mexican cuisine. I doubt whether I'll ever be able to stomach Tex-Mex again. Chock-full of spicy sausage flavor, mild chile heat, a fresh collaboration of vegetables and succulent shrimp, this dish was fantastic. The saute was accompanied by a satisfying helping of black beans and rice.
As she devoured an enormous, flavor-packed burrito (also plated with black beans and rice), Sister Foodie forgot our poor history of Bay-area dining. Mission accomplished.
Red Mesa would be a welcome addition to any neighborhood; I wish it would cross the bay to mine. This location features a comfortable, casual atmosphere. Two connected dining rooms offer booth or table seating and a small bar is available, too. The prices are totally affordable and the weighty lunch and dinner menus would keep me coming back for eons. Due to my New Tampa location, I won't be visiting as often as I'd like, but this restaurant's dizzying selection of soups, salads, appetizers, Mexican plates, burritos, enchiladas, tacos, wraps, sandwiches and house specialties will definitely lure me across the HF more often. I can't wait to try the dinner menu, which is equally tempting and more refined than burritos and enchiladas.