BITE-SIZED

Mixed MEXICAN

Flying Iguana fuses fabulous fare from both sides of the border

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With tiny shops, by-the-sea proximity and friendly residents, Neptune Beach could be the beach town in an idyllic summer teenage romance novel. Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar is situated smack-dab in the middle of this picturesqueness.

Despite its Americana/Mexican, self-described "Latin Fusion" vibe, you'll still get house chips and red and green salsas. The chips have a special seasoning that locals call Cheeto dust. Our server hinted that it's a combo of several secret things, but she did let slip that nutmeg and maybe cinnamon and cumin were involved. I agree on the cumin and she might be on to something with the rest. It's definitely different from the usual taco or lime seasoning on most house chips.

Every meal should start with guac, and if it's on the menu, I'm probably going to order it. The Flying Guacamole was large and filling, even for $9.50. The guac is in a large mortar/pestle bowl with plenty to share-no tiny cup here. With minced jalapeno added in, it has a bit of a kick, most welcome. I was told the servers make it tableside indoors, but we were happy to forgo that in favor of gorgeous seating in the warm sunshine.

Part of the establishment's name is "tequila bar," for good reason-there are plenty of tequilas here (we lost count at 80). The range of margaritas, from blood orange to watermelon, is unrivaled, and a house margarita ($8) is more than enough. (Happy hour and $5 house margs start at 3 p.m.) These really are about the best "bottom shelf" margaritas in town; they're served in a traditional glass or, as it's formally known in my house, a margarita chalice.

Flying Iguana's Banhi Mi Mexico ($9) is a cool mix of Vietnamese and Mexican flavors. The clean crunch of pickled cucumbers, carrots and onion complimented the marinated chicken and slightly rich chipotle aioli. My only complaint was that the chicken pieces were a little larger than I expected, but that's just a preference. The lunchtime tortas are served, with a side salad, until 3 p.m.

There's a wide array of traditional and nontraditional tacos. Crispy Pork Belly ($4.50), with its rum 'n' coke glaze, is a perfect example of nontraditional, as is the locally sourced veg delight Farm-to-Taco ($4) with roasted vegs, avocado and two salsas.

We were most excited for the Carnitas Taco ($3.50) and Flying Fish Taco ($4.50). To be honest, I prefer the crispy carnitas often found at standard Mexican spots to the juicier, slightly soggy, version at Iguana. But it's finished with fresh cilantro and pickled red onion, my favorite taco topping. The Flying Fish Taco features a nice cut of mahi, with crunchy cabbage and drizzled with a traditional Peruvian aji sauce that usually accompanies ceviche, which they also serve.

Flying Iguana offers "Latenight Moonbites," food and drink specials, as well as a decent Sunday brunch, with live music. If you're not stuffed, order Tres Leches Bread Pudding ($7) with apples, whipped cream and pomegranate syrup or just one more margarita-it is a tequila bar, after all.

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