It is rare, extremely rare, that the words healthy, delicious and affordable can be used together. Typically, it’s one of those “pick two out of three” situations . . . you know, if you want healthy and delicious it won’t be affordable. Or if you want affordable and delicious, it can’t be healthy. And how often does healthy and affordable taste like cardboard and chemicals? See where I’m going with this?
Let me tell you where . . . Poppo’s Taqueria . . . one of the very few places where you’ll find healthy, delicious and affordable served up with a few other key ingredients for success; such as fresh, fast and friendly.
Poppo’s Taqueria is a three years young Manatee-based chain that specializes in handcrafted gourmet Mexican street food with nary a can opener or microwave in sight. That’s right. . . nothing comes out of a can, nothing is nuked!
Hearing nothing but praise for their tacos and burritos, Jill and I visited Poppo’s newest taqueria, (store number 4) which opened in late 2015 in the Shoppes at University Center, between Shoe Carnival and Marshalls. That’s the shopping center on the north side of University, across from the UTC Mall.
At first blush, one may think that Poppo’s Taqueria is another fast-casual Tex-Mex joint, but believe me. . . it isn’t. We were thrilled to learn that almost all of the food, probably 90% of it, is organic and processed in-house. That includes free range chicken which is cooked and broken down every day as one of your protein choices as well as used for their scratch-made chicken stock. Poppo’s also uses a wild boar from Three Suns Ranch in Punta Gorda to create their delicious chorizo. Naturally, everything is hormone/antibiotic free, with zero GMOs or pesticides, with all their vegetables coming from local distributors. Knowing all that, it isn’t hard to understand why a steady stream of customers stop by after their workouts at the nearby gym.
So I had to ask, “What makes your restaurant so successful?”
“There’s nothing complicated about our food, it’s straightforward delicious because the quality is in the ingredients,” states owner Patrick Coleman, who partnered with his wife Rowen and brother Casey to open their first location on Anna Maria Island a few years ago.
“You can see how fresh our ingredients are. We build everything fresh-to-order, so you can see how bright and colorful the tomatoes are, how vibrant and green the arugula is. The meat isn’t drying out on a side table or swimming in grease. It’s fall off the bone delicious. Our recipes are based on the taqueria food I grew up eating in the Mission District of San Francisco.”
Poppo’s menu is written on a beautiful chalkboard over the service area, with mouth-watering descriptions that resulted in our ordering an assortment of their most popular items. We missed out on ordering one of their popular bowl entrees, since even we Foodies have our limits!
My first word of advice for anyone visiting Poppo’s Taqueria . . . do not skip the chips and salsa for $1.00. They are made fresh to order for each guest, so the chips are hot and crunchy, the salsa cool and crisp. And yes, we ordered a second helping, even after noshing on our meals.
First up was the Classic Burrito, a hefty creation with white rice, pinto beans, carnitas, (pork braised over 3-4 hours) pico de gallo, hot sauce, and Monterrey Jack cheese rolled up in a 12″ flour tortilla. I should mention that the dough for their tortillas is an exclusive recipe produced by a local artisan baker, just another menu element that is locally sourced and then pressed and grilled fresh to order for the guests at Poppo’s! This would easily suffice as a meal unto itself, so full of flavor and beautifully composed, the Classic Burrito showcases the uncomplicated, straightforward approach that Patrick alluded to earlier. “I’m very fond of our Classic Burrito. I believe that one menu item put us on the map when we first started out!” said Patrick.
Jill and I shared two tacos, the first being the Poppo’s Taco, with the wild boar chorizo (an easy protein choice for me,) partnered with a purple honey-lime slaw, pico de gallo and feta cheese. Their Classic Taco consists of carnitas, red onion, cilantro and a lime wedge served on a corn tortilla.
Side-by-side, there was no clear winner. Taco nirvana was the result here, with no mistaking the freshness of the ingredients dancing around with our taste buds! Poppo’s serves up most of their menu items on the subtle side of the hot sauce Scoville scale, but you can order as much salsa verde as you can handle. . . just tell them to lay on the heat while they’re making your order.
Lastly, we indulged ourselves with the Black Bean Quesadilla, a crispy toasted 10″ flour tortilla graced with black beans, pico de gallo, red onion, cilantro, and feta cheese. The crispiness of the tortilla was a perfect counter to the savory ingredients. Each bite featured the distinctive crunch of the tortilla giving way to the seasoned beans and melted cheese.
All of this Mexican goodness was washed down with locally brewed organic Kombucha Tea, but you can order a local craft beer or one of their Fountainhead gourmet craft sodas, made with real sugar and not high-fructose corn syrup – no surprises there.
As we finished up, another crop of young, healthy people started forming a line at the counter. Healthy, delicious and affordable will do that for you. Every single time.
Congratulations Poppo’s Taqueria! Your success is certainly well earned and deserved.