Tijuana Flats is one of our favorite affordable, fast-food restaurants. As non-carnivores, we appreciate the diversity of the menu here. Most, if not all of their dishes here are offered with the option of having either black beans or refried beans as the protein, instead of meat. The beans here, unlike those at some other restaurants, are not cooked with lard, so they are 100% vegetarian.
From the exterior, this looks like any other restaurant in a strip mall:
The vibe is very casual, family-friendly (Winter Garden location – corner of 50 and 535) or Gen X friendly (Kirkman location), and comfortable. Up-tempo music plays over the speakers, loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to impede conversation. In keeping with the tradition that it was started by college-age guys, it’s staffed with younger people. The TVs are usually set to sports channels, and there is a lot of risque double entendre in the literature, with discussions of “heat” and “wetness.” While this restaurant acknowledges the word play, they don’t revel in it or shove it in your face. This is no Hooters.
The decor is colorful and trendy, with the focus of the restaurant being a hot sauce bar:
The sauces range in heat levels from Sissy Sauce up to their hottest sauces. Our personal favorite is one called “Smack my sweet ass and call me Sally.” We refer to it simply as “Sweet Sally.”
For those of you, like us, who don’t tolerate heat well, this sauce is great. It is very sweet, almost like a duck sauce with more flavor. It’s mild enough that even I can pour it right onto a chip and eat it as dip.
The prices for entrees here range from $4.50 to around $8.00, and the burritos come in three sizes: Regular, Tijuana, and Megajuana. We each have our favorites that we order. For my husband, it’s a Tijuana sized black bean burrito. He has it “wet” with chipotle sauce, though other wet options include queso or salsa. The chipotle sauce is very nice, with a smoky flavor, without being too spicy. The Tijuana size burrito is quite large, and usually has enough left over for him to take home and have as a side with whatever we’re having for dinner that night. It’s well-stuffed, and you can tell that it’s made to order and hasn’t just been sitting around waiting for some poor sap who’s in too much of a rush to care that his dish has been under a heating lamp for 6 hours. The burrito also comes with a side of chips.
My favorite entree is the refried bean flautas. The flauta shells are flour, not corn, and they’re always nicely done, with the ends crispy and great to dip into the accompanying queso. The queso is very good, creamy and melty, and I “compose” each bite by adding queso, guacamole, sour cream, and a drop or two of Sweet Sally.
Why, you may be asking, don’t we order any of the appetizers like chips & salsa or chips & queso? For two reasons: 1. Our entrees alone are substantial enough to fill us, and then some. 2. The one time we ordered salsa here, it was DRASTICALLY under-salted. We are not the kind of people who salt our food at restaurants, and we had to pour salt into this salsa to make it even remotely tasty. While we highly recommend the entrees here, we find the salsa to be sub-par.
A few notes about etiquette: about $1/person tip is appropriate here, or, alternately, 10-15% of the total tab. Though you place your order at the counter, the servers bring it out to you and are very quick to offer refills of your drink or anything else you might need. On one occasion, a child about 4 years old at a table near us told his server, “I don’t like this,” referring to the entree that he had chosen. She asked him what he’d like instead, and she brought it out to him, without charging his mother for his culinary whims.
Children are NOT allowed at the hot sauce bar. This is for their own safety; many of these sauces are very, very hot and can burn dreadfully if rubbed by dirty little fists into curious little eyes. My pet peeve is that, every time we are there, despite the large sign on the hot sauce bar stating “No children allowed,” invariably there is a family who allows their 3 year old free rein at the bar, so the munchkin walks around grabbing the hot sauce tubes, serving him/herself, and spilling sauce on his/her clothes. My favorite was the kid who kept roller skating around and around the hot sauce bar, running into patrons and servers. The Winter Garden branch of this restaurant has a superabundance of children, so this is a much more common scene than at the Kirkman branch, which seems to be more of a professional or collegiate crowd.
I would definitely recommend this restaurant for off-property guests of the Disney World resort who are seeking to escape the exhorbitant prices and usually mediocre quality of the counter service food in the parks. Our tab for 2 people usually runs around $17-18, including tax, tip, and those extras like upsizing the burrito and adding the chipotle sauce.