Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar

Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar is the in spot on Las Olas Boulevard – that is, if you can get in. Stop by for a weekend dinner without a reservation and the wait can easily be two hours. Want a table at 8 on a Saturday night? Better call at least a week in advance. Open nearly four months, the 6,300-square-foot Fort Lauderdale branch continues the wild popularity of Rocco’s Tacos, a mini Mexican chain with locations in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton. 

Ramping up the noise and excitement is owner Rocco Mangel, who shows up randomly, hops on the bar top and walks along pouring tequila down the throats of eager customers. Mangel started as a busboy for Big City Tavern in 1997 and worked his way up, joining forces with BCT’s parent company, Big Time Restaurant Group, to create Rocco’s Tacos. The after-work crowd swarms the bar, which boasts 220 types of tequila including agave gems aged in oak casts. For my health-conscious friends, there was even a Skinny Señorita Margarita.

Ambience: The brickwork remains from the space’s previous incarnation as Smith & Jones, but new, Mexican-made steel chandeliers with glimmering, star-shaped orange globes put Rocco’s stamp on it. If you don’t like a loud setting, Rocco’s is not for you unless you arrive early. Before 7 on Sunday evening, it was a more relaxed scene with lots of families (there’s a kids’ menu with $5 items).

What Worked

  • Don’t-miss chips and salsa dusted with “secret” spices (you’ll detect chili powder and cayenne)
  • Fabulous, ultra-creamy guacamole, prepared at a nearby cart and quickly devoured
  • Sweet & attentive, albeit occasionally spotty, service
  • Bracingly fresh ceviche made with mahi mahi (or other fresh catch), plus shrimp, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and avocado tweaked with lemon-lime juice and a hint of cilantro
  • Tacos served individually with the usual accompaniments & elevated by  house-made tortillas
  • Tuesday night taco specials – load up on a choice of chicken, pork, steak, shrimp, ground beef, mushroom or steak tacos for $14.99.
  • Perfectly grilled salmon with an ancho glaze, pineapple salsa and grilled veggies
  • A wicked chocolate pie with a graham cracker and shredded coconut crust topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce

  • Warm, made-to-order churros, rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla ice cream

What Didn’t Work

  • Disappointing mole, more like a barbecue sauce than a complex melding of spices and chocolate
  • Dry & bland grilled chicken breast (served with rice, grilled vegetables and plantains)