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Cheap Eats: La Placita Mexicana

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La Placita Mexicana's cuerito taco / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

La Placita Mexicana's cuerito taco / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

La Placita Mexicana
12341 U.S. 301 N., Parrish
776-0438
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.

Sometimes you just get lucky.

I have no reason to think the food at La Placita Mexicana will be anything special. For starters, it's in Parrish, a tiny community in northeastern Manatee County that I'm passing through to get to another tiny community in northeastern Manatee County: Bunker Hill, or, technically, Duette. The small Latino grocery store sits right at the crossroads of 301 and State Road 62, which branches out east toward the aforementioned towns. When I asked a guy in Bunker Hill if he could recommend any good non-chain restaurants nearby, he looked at me like I had gone insane.

La Placita Mexicana's carnitas taco / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

La Placita Mexicana's carnitas taco / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

But it's lunchtime, and I'm too starved to head back to Sarasota without at least grabbing something, and La Placita Mexicana, whatever it might be serving, looks awfully inexpensive. A red, white and green mansard roof covers the one-story store. Young Latino guys on their lunch break shoot the breeze in Spanish, chowing down at a couple of picnic tables set up to the left of the building. Inside, the store is half-dark — even the lights inside the wall cooler in the back have burned out. It's a Friday, and guys are filing in and out with cases of Bud, ready to celebrate the end of the workweek.

The menu is handwritten, hung behind the small counter set in the left side of the store, behind 10 or so tables and right next to a TV turned on to a soap. The board lists the basics of Mexican grocery cuisine: tacos, tortas, burritos, quesadillas, etc., with the normal meaty options: chicken, beef, carnitas, tripe, buche, cuerito, pastor, and more. Behind the counter, a cook is heating up a huge quantity of dried red chilies right on the flattop, filling the air with a peppery scent. A man in a baseball cap hauls in cardboard boxes loaded with cilantro, lemons and onions.

At $1.25 a pop, I'm more than happy to load up on tacos. The meat has been precooked, but then is given a fresh warmup on the flattop, where the cook also toasts the perfectly round corn tortillas. I have no clue what buche is, but they're out of it anyway, so I settle for pastor and carnitas and another ingredient I am completely ignorant of: cuerito. (I later learn that buche is pig stomach, cuerito pig skin.)

La Placita Mexicana / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

La Placita Mexicana / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Each of the taco fillings comes tossed with small cubes of diced white onions and flakes of cilantro. Rather than the typical lime wedge on the side, La Placita serves up a slice of lemon. The shot of acid enlivens the salty, fatty meat, as does the fresh crunch of the onion and the herbal fragrance of the cilantro. The pastor and carnitas are both excellent, the meat cooked till it falls apart in long, juicy strips. There's just something about that pork flavor, wrapped up in a soft, warm tortilla, that makes my toes curl.

As for the cuerito, well, I'm pleasantly surprised. I've eaten pork rind tacos before, but they've either been deep-fried and crispy or stewed and gelatinous. La Placita's pig skin is surprisingly dense, with a chewy bite and a rich flavor I've never before encountered. Sitting in the driver's seat of my car, Styrofoam plate in my lap, I'm beaming. A solid new taco flavor? Not something you come across often in a lifetime.

Sometimes, you walk into a place expecting the food to be great and it stinks. But like I said, sometimes you get lucky, and an unassuming place impresses the hell out of you. I have no clue when I'll be back in Bunker Hill, or Duette, or Parrish, but when it happens, I'll be stopping at La Placita.

Last modified: May 5, 2014
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