First Look

Jo-Jo's Tacos in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea: Small Place, Big Flavor

 New York, New Jersey, and Philly were in the house on Saturday night  at JoJo's Tacos, where I put back a Corona while I waited for a seat at the bar. 

I felt like I was back in my hometown at the Jersey Shore as I chatted with Aneillo, a sales guy who moved down from Deal, New Jersey, back in November. I was also reminded that I'm in de facto Northern territory by the proliferation of the uptown Manhattan men's uniform: a black, short-sleeved, untucked, buttoned-down shirt; jeans; and loafers. Then there were the sharp elbows, as those who had just arrived jockeyed for seats, since there are plenty of greeters but no host manning the door. 

Jo-Jo's is about the sixth local taco joint to open in the past year, in the bones of what appears to have been a Waffle House. I actually found it charming. I liked the scene and the order in chaos.

There are no servers here, so pony up to the register, not just for your order but for each and every drink. 

Choose from one of a half dozen beers -- Presidente, Negro Modelo, Pacifico, and Dos Equis are five bucks a pop, my friend -- or the selection of wines by the glass. If you're not a drinker, there's always Gatorade ($2.50). Then be prepared for a wait -- but the food is worth it. 

As Aneillo asked me my sign (he guessed Aquarius; I'm actually a Leo) and briefed me on Lauderdale's best places for clubbing, I watched the chef -- Joseph T. Parsons, a tattooed teddy bear -- work the line like a ballerina: expediting plates, talking to customers, dressing down a cook. 

Jo-Jo's is Parson's homecoming project after years of paying dues elsewhere, including local spots like Armadillo Cafe and Sunfish Grill. Earlier in his career, Parson logged time at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, and a multiyear stint in Stockholm to open restaurants for a Michelin-starred chef. Despite Jo-Jo's casual concept, this chef has serious chops. 

Fish tacos show off kitchen skills in terms of the freshness of the ingredients and balance of flavors, so I ordered Cathy's Catch, a flash-fried fish taco with serrano tartar, a cilantro honey lime slaw, and spicy pepitas ($5.50). The fish was terrific, complemented by fresh herbs, crunchy slaw, heat from serrano, and addictive pepitas. My only misstep was ordering the 34 sauce, a sweet and spicy concoction among the list of condiments customers can choose from, which include salsas, churri, and crema. I should have picked the verde. Despite my fumble, taco number one hit the spot. 

​I was also delighted with the elotes ($3), a side that's been the clunker where I've had it elsewhere recently. It's corn shaved from the cob, which Parsons said he blisters in a pan, hits with lime, and garnishes with aioli and cotija cheese and a pinch of New Mexico red chili powder. This Mexican comfort food might become my summer replacement for mac and cheese. 

As for Aneillo and the Jersey Shore crowd? I'm sure we'll meet again. If the promise of tacos -- a peachy pollo ($4.50), rock shrimp ($.5.50), and pork butt ($4.50) -- don't lure us back, the chance to play with condiments will. I can't help it, but I'm a sucker for the sauce.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Facebook and on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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Food Critic
Contact: Melissa McCart