Even when you add the word “contemporary” to a description of the amazing Cocina 214 Mexican and Tex-Mex kitchen, it doesn’t begin to do justice to my favorite new Central Florida restaurant. And you know I do not say that lightly. A combination of the Spanish word for kitchen and the area code for Dallas, Cocina 214 is the beautiful dream of two brave Texans who grew up in restaurant families and moved to Winter Park only to miss the food they had grown up eating.
Somehow that translated into “Let’s open a restaurant”, and one year later the rest is culinary history. Fortunately, this hunger for Tex-Mex comfort food led Lambrine Macejewski, husband Ron, and the pair’s charming little daughter to bring their considerable level of taste and their taste buds to share with us in Winter Park.
I thank former Mayor Terry Hotard for leading me to Cocina 214 — not that it’s hard to find — just off Park Avenue on Welbourne Avenue, between Morris Boulevard and New England Avenue. Having found it, I can now tell you, dear readers, that this is a significant food destination.
The décor is magnificently understated and welcoming — from the front porch to the sculptural banquettes in the main dining room. It is, simply stated, one of the most beautiful restaurants in all of Florida.
And I am thrilled to report that the food lives up to the beautiful surroundings. This is a kitchen that truly cares about fresh, local ingredients, served in an elegant setting. My dining partner and I began with the quesadillas. At Cocina 214, quesadillas are comfort food for the hungry and sophisticated palate. Please order a full portion of the truffle and mushroom quesadillas and then call me — I’ll be there in a hurry; on that you can depend and never worry! Those truffle oil-infused babies will bring me back again and again. (Secret: Quesadillas never tasted this good.) And the grilled chicken breast quesadilla proved that pico de gallo does not have to be too spicy.
Offerings are served with three levels of hot sauce — all freshly made in-house, thereby giving the dinner the option of how much hotness is added to the food. We moved on to the beef brisket tacos, beautifully presented as pulled beef on a series of little open-face tortillas. This is a popular item, and the tasty mix of flavors explains why.
Cocina 214 is open seven days a week, for lunch and dinner with complimentary valet parking for dinner at 151 E. Welbourne Ave. in Winter Park. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Call 407-790-7997 or visit cocina214.com
I also tried the corn-crusted mahi-mahi, done to flaky perfection and coated lightly with the most wonderful vegetable butter sauce. The fresh veggies in the sauce allowed me to feel healthy while ordering extra sauce — yes, it’s that good. And I hasten to add that the three hot sauces sat there ready to be used, but I enjoyed the taste of fresh ingredients in all the dishes, not needing to heat them up.
The wonderful news is that we are all invited to a double celebration on Saturday, May 5, which happens to be a Mexican holiday (Cinco de Mayo) and the one-year anniversary of Cocina 214. I love this place so much I’ll probably be there from noon to 10 p.m. as Cocina 214 closes a portion of Welbourne Avenue for the event. There will be music, beer, frozen margaritas, free samples and prizes — and no cover charge. “We never imagined the success and warm welcome we’ve received from the community,” owner Lambrine Macejewski said. “This Cinco de Mayo is a chance to give back with a block party open to the public.”
If you’ve read this far, I’m happy to say that if you tell your server that “Josh sent me” or bring in the April 26 Observer, Cocina 214 will offer a free rocks or frozen margarita with any entrée.