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Tijuana Flats Fires the Imagination

Restaurant News 08.03.09

–While many restaurants struggle to regularly reinvent themselves, Tijuana Flats retains it’s uniqueness day-in-and-day-out by just being itself. . . different, in a strangely familiar kind of way–

(All Rights Reserved – Fred Roberts for “A Sarasota Minute”) Have you ever found yourself watching a movie where you can’t seem to figure out when and where the action is supposedly set?

The props and settings are familiar, but still, you can’t quite put your finger on the particulars.

The device is used by directors to draw audiences in by making them feel at once comfortable and curious, familiar with the film’s surroundings yet intrigued by them.

If the local dining scene has an equivalent of the experience, it’s Tijuana Flats Burrito Company in Sarasota.

The music is decidedly retro, with hits from the 60s through 80s playing in the background but at a volume loud enough to be heard and appreciated instead of turned down to the point of being unrecognizable.

The colorfully painted walls give the place the laid back feel of a 1960′s era college hangout like the Mellow Mushroom in Gainesville or the old Jabberwocky Cafe in Syracuse, New York on the Syracuse University campus. But the service is reminiscent of an even earlier era. Customers are greeted by the help as they enter. It’s a throwback to an easier time, perhaps a family run diner from the ’50s, even though piercings, up-to-date fashions and modern hair stylings clearly place the servers and counter help in the here and now. It’s a refreshing contrast that adds to the retro-mod vibe of the place.

And the food? Well, the tacos, burritos, quesadillas and other south of the border favorites served at Tijuana Flats are head-and-shoulders above what usually passes for Mexican fare in these parts. And the “Hot Bar” puts this casual dining destination in a class by itself by adding a combustible, user definable flavor to the fare with an assortment of hot sauces that range in fieriness from the altogether tame “Sissy Sauce” to the five-alarm “Smack My Ass and call me Sally!”

Also adding to the “can’t quite pigeonhole it” quality of the place, is the variety of clientele Tijuana Flats attracts. Students, doctors, lawyers, office workers, cops?they all seem to feel at home here.

So while many restaurants struggle to regularly reinvent themselves to keep their concept fresh, Tijuana Flats retains it’s uniqueness day-in-and-day-out by keeping it simple and just being itself. . . different, in a strangely familiar kind of way.