I get to Taco Libre exactly when the event starts: 6 PM. My friends have already seated themselves at a table prior to my arrival, but have not saved me a seat. Why? The turnout was insane, leaving no seats for some. I grabbed a chair far too high for my table and hungrily waited for the winding line to subside.
A line peeps outside the door just an hour into the event. As I inch closer to the cashier, I see the menu. A range of Mexican-fusion delicacies are detailed in the menu (think Carne Asada tots and Mahi Mahi tacos), but I choose the Carolina Tacos. These tacos, which I get every time I come here, always entice me with their North/South Carolina-style pulled pork base as well as their mac and cheese and mango coleslaw toppings.
“It’s packed,” mouths the owner, Keith Hernandez, as he prepares a taco behind a sheet of glass that separates customers from the tasty, fresh toppings. While I wait in line, samples of wine are passed out to my friends to sip with their food. At the cash register, the cashier offers me the opportunity to buy either a glass or bottle of the wine that pairs best with my taco. Glasses range from 5 to 6 dollars, while bottles cost from 15 to 18 dollars.
After I order, I approach Cookie O’Donnell, who plays a crucial part in the family-owned wine business. She and her family make up Elite Worldwide Imports, which imports wine from all over the world to local restaurants like Taco Libre. On this night they serve samples of three different Italian wines to the packed crowd.
Hernandez obviously could not have expected the amount of people that would show up to the event, considering this is only the second time this event has been hosted in the 14-month-old restaurant. Perhaps it is because of the rich, delicious nature of the food itself or the smartly paired wines that accompany them.
Ryan Hanegan, general manager of Taco Libre, notes that tacos were paired with wines based on their respective characteristics. For example, the Mahi Mahi tacos were paired with Chardonnay to accent the light, fruit flavors present in both of them. Red wines were paired with dishes that were richer and meatier in flavor. I personally opted for white wine, but was recommended to pair my Carolina tacos with Merlot-Cabernet to bring out their BBQ flavor.
For fans of wine-pairing, Elite Worldwide Imports will be providing wine for Florida Wing Factory’s wing and wine event, which will function similarly to the event at Taco Libre. For fans of tacos, beer, and the flavorsome relationship between the two, Taco Libre plans on teaming up with up with our country’s first, Latin American-inspired brewery, Five Rabbit Cerveceria in February.