I thought I was in Tampa but as soon as I stepped through the doors of the new Besito Mexican Restaurant at Westshore Plaza I was instantly transported into an authentic Mexican hacienda.  I have traveled extensively in Mexico and I was immediately reminded of some of my favorite restaurants in San Miguel De Allende, Oaxaca, and San Jose Del Cabo.  Besito celebrated their Grand Opening with a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony with Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the 813 Area Team was invited to join the festivities. 

The restaurant is absolutely gorgeous.  It's hard to believe it used to be the dark, cavernous Palm Restaurant. The spirit of Mexico is alive in every bright and beautiful area of the transformed space. From the gorgeous, lighted handcrafted masks that adorn the walls, to the Eucalyptul Poles that line the ceilings, the beautiful Mexican tile and wood flooring, the soft but vibrant orange color palette, the 150 candles on the candle wall, and the stunning outdoor patio, this is an upscale but very comfortable place where I can see myself spending a lot of time. 

I was fortunate to spend some time chatting with the founder of the Besito Mexican Restaurant group, restaurateur John J. Tunney III.  He created the first Besito Mexico Restaurant in 2006 after years of traveling in Mexico.  His travels allowed him to develop a unique understanding of the culture and flavors of Mexico and he wanted to bring a "little kiss" (Besito in Spanish) of this authenticy to the US.  Tunney opened the first Besito in 2006 and currently there are only 5 other locations, all in the Northeast.  The Tampa location is being opened in partnership with Outback Steakhouse founder Chris Sullivan and his son Alex. 

Tunney has a passion for extraordinary food and prides himself on serving Authentic Mexican Cuisine with a focus on fresh, house-made local ingredients.  I saw this passion immediately as my evening in Mexico began with a Besito Margarita.  The Besito Margarita contains Patron Reposado, Cointreau, pomegranate-tangerine juice and fresh squeezed lime juice. I also tried the Cocoloma Margarita which was my favorite.   It was the perfect start to an incredible evening.

If you like tequila, you won't be disappointed at Besito.  With over 70 different tequilas and dozens of creative, craft cocktails, it's difficult to pull yourself away from the very comfortable and inviting bar area.  Stay if you want because the rolling guacamole cart will come to you!  Besito's guacamole is prepared tableside by a specially trained server using a traditional molcajete (lava stone bowl, similar to a mortar and pestle) with spiciness to order.  It was some of the best guacamole I've ever tasted!

My taste buds felt like they were back on the beaches of Cabo San Lucas as I dove into the fish tacos.  Lightly fried fish, pickled red onion, shredded romaine, salsa molcajete, and a little extra kick of their homemade hot sauce, simple but super delicious. Next up was the prettiest bowl of tortilla soup I've ever been served. Avocado, pulled chicken, queso, chihuahua, chopped cilantro, toasted pasillachile, crema and onion, it was almost too pretty to eat. Almost. 

I was lucky to sample a host of dishes but my favorite bite of the evening was the Pesdaco con Piplan y Atole, translation Pan Seared Mahi Mahi with a Blue Corn and Crab Crust, Pumpkin Seed Pipian, Sweet Corn Atole, Cilantro, and Chayote Salad. I loved the half and half presentation and the fish was cooked perfectly.  

Even though I was already beyond stuffed, we finished off the evening with the sinfully delicious Tres Leches.  Magnificent!

I am thrilled with Besito's dedication to giving back, both internationally and locally. The Besito Family works with Feed the Hungry SMA in sponsoring the building of school kitchens in rural San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  They employ local mothers to cook and serve 1,500 meals per week to school children, often providing their only meal of the day.  Locally, Besito supports The Pediatric Cancer Foundation and helped raise $12,500 for the Foundation on their Grand Opening night.

Although Besito the restaurant is newly opened, the service was extremely professional, personable, and spot on. I loved the special touches like the complimentary bag of fresh churros delivered to our table and the traditional Worry Doll we were given to take home to put under our pillow to "take all of our worries away".  A few hours at Besito Mexican Restaurant was enough to take all of my worries away.  I'm sure it will work for you too.

**Photo credits: Many thanks to Rick Taudeda, www.ricktauceda.com for the photo of the Mayor's Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and the photo with John J. Tunney.

***Many thanks to Elevate, Inc. for inviting us to this awesome event! I will think about you during all of my extra hours in the gym this week.