The Introvert’s Guide to Orlando: VIII Restaurants Designed for Extroverts

I try to have lunch with my dad once a week. Today we ended up at a restaurant that did not work for us because it was wired for extroverts. I thought we’d give the new place–Bartaco–a shot because Dad knew where it was, and what the heck, the name “Bartaco,” seemed like a big message that Bart Must Have Tacos. While the food was good, the setup was not good for a couple of introverts. There’s a lot of that around Orlando.

One thing I noticed out front was that there was no menu posted for the casual visitor–if I wanted to know what sort of food they served, I had to peek at the food people eating on the outdoor patio or ask someone. Mind you, the “taco” in the name might have given it away, but I recall wondering about the place just before it opened. The logo was a dragonfly, which doesn’t exactly say “tacos” to me.

The decor in Bartaco was atypical for a Mexican-style restaurant as well: hanging lamps with baskets as lamp shades and an open seating area (no booths) set up around the horseshoe-shaped bar. There were various seashells and dried starfish in bowls at the entry and books about boats–maybe to provide people something to read while waiting?

Bartaco’s menu was minimalist, offering headings like “Tacos” and “Not Tacos,” and the tacos were simply labeled “chicken,” pork belly,” “shrimp,” etc. My father, who is an avid menu reader, saw only a list of menu items, no descriptions. The prices seemed low, which led me to guess the portions were small, but it’s amazing how quickly those items added up ($32 for the two of us with only iced tea for Padre and water for me). The ordering process seemed to be sushi-style, with a checklist where the entire table marked off what they wanted and passed it around. If either of us had questions, we had to ask aloud.

The food was well seasoned. The guacamole came out with tostada-size chips–presumably for sharing–and had a good lime flavor with some jalapeño zing to it. The tacos were half-size (“street tacos,” I think the menu or server called them) and also zesty with a mix of excellent flavors–apologies if my descriptions lack “flavor,” I’m an aerospace technical writer, not a food critic. I neglected to check the adult beverage menu because I was there for lunch.

The background music was loud rock of some sort–not great for people who have problems hearing in restaurants–and the server, while obviously a high-energy person, spoke very quickly. There were no booths, and food was served communally, which is to say all in one tray. I had trouble keeping track of which tacos were whose because, after all, even if you put slightly different sauces on the various selections, they all looked similar. I liked the food, but the food was too spicy for Padre.

Given the lack of written information on the menus, I gather that they like the servers to work for their tips by sharing all the information available aloud. She visited rather more often than I’ve observed at most restaurants, and the manager dropped by, too, to make sure everything was to our liking.

This is not meant to slam Bartaco. The place is what it is, and seemed to have an active/social vibe to it; the patrons consisted primarily of people younger than me or Father Dan. Orlando is big on “themed” restaurants and shared dining experiences. If there’s a restaurant where the wait staff does a lot of singing “Happy Birthday” to patrons, putting inflatable balloon hats, or otherwise calling attention to the diners so the entire restaurant can see what’s going on, you can safely bet that I won’t be there…neither will my dad. And while Bartaco was not quite that crazy, most of the restaurants at Disney are, so let this be a heads-up to the unsuspecting visitor.

That’s not to say all restaurants in Orlando are meant to be “entertainment;” they aren’t. However, one of the challenges with trying new eating places here is that in order to provide “a fun experience,” the establishments are usually geared toward providing an extrovert’s idea of a fun dining experience (“Meals are supposed to be social occasions”). Still, if you’re used to a quieter level of “social,” you might understand why folks like Father Dan stick to two or three restaurants around town when they go out.

The Padre wants good food, quiet or reasonable-dull-roar noise levels, no music, or if there is music, something low-key like live jazz or a piano player where people often quiet down a bit in order to hear the performer. If you’re interested in those types of environments in Southwest Orlando as well, I can recommend The Palm Restaurant at Hard Rock Hotel at Universal, Eddie V‘s in Dr. Phillips, and Fresco Cucina Italiana on Turkey Lake Road. There are others, I’ll just have to think on it a while. None of these places is quiet, per se…such dining establishments are rare in Orlando, but I’ll keep hunting. Recommendations welcome.

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