If you are what you eat, you guys know I’m pizza… but Mexican is a close second. Last night, Adam and I got the opportunity to try out the menu at Papi Chulo’s in Jacksonville’s Tinseltown Area. And you guys, this place is really good.
Jacksonville has a plethora of Mexican restaurants. And they all seem to be serving the same boring line up of tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and other bland Mexican fare. There has yet to be a Mexican restaurant on the Southside of town that really sticks out. I want fresh ingredients and traditional Mexican dishes with a gourmet twist. I want muddled drinks with flavors that are refreshing and satisfying. And I found all of that and more at Papi Chulo’s.
Warning: if you’re hungry right now, you might want to come back to this post. There are a lot of great descriptions and photos of the delicious foods we tried. Here’s the line up.
We started out our fiesta with a flight of guacamole. Now, I know there’s a right and a wrong way to make guacamole, fresh ingredients usually being the difference. But I had no idea there were different variations of guacamole. The flight includes three different guacamoles. Start off with Fresh Guacamole, your standard house made guacamole with avocados, lime, cilantro, yadda, yadda. The second guacamole in the flight is Caribbean Guacamole, fresh guacamole with mango and honey. (What? I know. But it was good!) And the last but not least is New England Guacamole. This time the guacamole is topped with lump crab, Old Bay seasoning, and corn. Let me just tell you guys, you gotta get the flight. You can’t have one of these without the other. Each one has a unique flavor that really brings out a different aspect of traditional guacamole. (And all of this is even coming from the girl who’s not really into guacamole.)
We followed the guacamole flight up with a flight of ceviche. Papi’s Ceviche is mahi mahi, shrimp, and scallops with all kinds of delicious seasons and vegetables that really bring the flavor. Mango and Mahi Ceviche is sweet from mangos and citrus juices with a kick thanks to serrano chilies. Shrimp and Avocado Ceviche is a more traditional ceviche with diced veggies and seasonings. If you’re only going to order one, go with the Papi’s Ceviche. You get a little bit of everything and the flavor is delicious. (But of course a flight will let you try all three and you can be the judge.)
Up next is my favorite part of the entire meal (which is saying a lot because there was A LOT to choose from) – Mexican Street Corn. This is a whole ear of corn charred and rolled in a garlic lime mayo coated with cotija cheese and topped with a dusting of chili powder and cilantro. HOLY YUM. This was a favorite amongst everyone and you can bet there wasn’t a single corn kernel on any of the cobs. I could have skipped a taco or two and eaten another round of corn.
The Chicken Flautas was another favorite amongst the table. Shredded guajillo chicken rolled inside a flour tortilla, fried, and topped with salsa roja. Simple, yet delicious. The chicken had a great flavor and the tortilla was cooked well but still chewy.
At this point, I’m already getting full. But there’s still plenty more to taste. We kicked off the taco round with a pollo (chicken) taco. Same guajillo chicken as the flautas topped with pickled onions, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, and cilantro. The chicken is juicy and tender. A basic chicken taco kicked up a notch.
The next four tacos are Papi Chulo’s Specialty Tacos, starting with the Steak Fajita taco – marinated steak grilled to a perfect pink and topped with grilled peppers, onions, and poblano peppers topped with queso.
The waiter raved over the Duck Dynasty taco and it was just okay to me. (I will note this is the first time I’ve ever eaten duck so I didn’t really know what to expect.) The thin sliced duck is topped with a salad of cabbage and pineapple relish. I feel like there was a lot going on with this taco and I picked at it before moving on. Plus, the toppings were cold and made the (supposed to be warm) duck the same.
Shrimp and spice is always nice and the Bang Shrimp taco lived up to it’s name. Lightly fried shrimp is tossed in signature bang sauce and served in a tortilla with cabbage slaw.
And last but not least in the taco course was the Bob Marley taco. I wish I wasn’t so full by the time this taco came out because I feel like I would have enjoyed it more. Jerk chicken is served on top of a bed of black beans cooked in pork fat (bacon!) and topped with mango salsa and fried plantains. Definitely a different take on tacos but really good.
Somewhere in between the tacos, we ordered drinks. It was nice to be amongst a mixed group of people because everyone ordered something different and we all go to try them. I ordered a Silver SloMo, tequila with lemon lime soda, mint, strawberries, and a little simple syrup. It was a basic but refreshing drink. Least favorite amongst the table was the cilantro and cucumber margarita, which should have been labeled jalapeno margarita. It was HOT. Some other options that were good included the frozen mango mojito, I’m Rick James Peach margarita, and the strawberry moonshine margarita (very strong, but tasty). But my favorite drink was Adam’s pomegranate mojito. It was refreshing and sweet, but not too sweet. He definitely out ordered all of us.
By this point we are all fat and happy and convinced we can’t eat another bite… and then they bring out tres leches cake and everyone suddenly finds a second wind. The cake was moist and sweet, topped with fresh whipped cream. A good ending to a great meal.
If you’re looking for a Mexican restaurant with a fun, laid back atmosphere and fresh food, you’ve got to go check out Papi Chulo’s. If I was to order all over again, I’d start with a pomegranate mojito, a flight of ceviche, Mexican Street Corn, and a trio of tacos including the Bob Marley taco, pollo taco, and I’d try something new and go with the Yellowfin taco.