There’s no shortage of restaurants at Sparkman Wharf. Still, only one sits nestled in a prime spot on the corner of Channelside and Garrison, beckoning passersby to sit and have a margarita on one of its breezy patios. In fact, there’s never been a time of day when I walk past Jotoro and don’t feel a wistful moment of wishing I could abandon all other plans, grab an outdoor seat, and order a paloma and some Street Corn Chicken Nachos. It’s a “hip-hop meets mariachi” and “sequins mix with sandals” vibe, according to the Jotoro website, and I couldn’t agree more.
Jotoro serves up some of the most delicious craft cocktails and Mexican food in the area. The slightly swanky, slightly relaxed atmosphere makes it perfect for a date night. And it is certainly one of the best Sparkman Wharf restaurants.
Joe Isidori is the Michelin-starred chef behind Jotoro. An international restauranteur and author of the cookbook Craft Burgers and Crazy Shakes, Isidori knows a lot about great cooking and unbeatable ambiance, and it shows. Walking into Jotoro, guests are transported to a dimly lit, well-decorated dining area. It’s complete with beaded sugar skull tapestries and a busy bar at the room’s center.
On Jotoro’s two outdoor patios, severs hustle about, bringing guests margaritas, guacamole, tacos, and more — all with a high-end twist.
The music in the restaurant plays at the perfect background volume, vibey enough to make you feel like you’re dining in an upscale establishment but quiet enough that you can hold a conversation with your dinner guest without having to shout.
I fancied my time sitting inside Jotoro to be a bit of a fashion show. I complimented our host on his blue velvet dinner jacket and enjoyed seeing the dresses other women wore in the restaurant. Everything felt high-end but also had a casual vibe. While the people-watching was top-notch, we also did not feel underdressed in our shorts and tops, outfits we’d decided to remain in after a day of visiting attractions around the city.
If outdoor seating is more your thing, the patios at Jotoro have a vibe all their own. Reserve a spot there to enjoy the evening breeze and feel like you’re more a part of the Sparkman Wharf nightlife as you watch the sun go down.
Drinks and Appetizers
The menu at Jotoro is easy to follow, but that doesn’t make the offerings basic. This begins with the craft cocktail menu, which boasts traditional Mexican sips like margaritas and palomas along with drinks like a dragonfruit mojito and the Old Fashioned Anejo, a tequila-based take on a traditional Old Fashioned.
I ordered the Spicy Watermelon Margarita, made from jalapeño tequila and chili liqueur, served with a slice of fresh watermelon. It was a very delicious start to the weekend, to say the least.
On the appetizer menu at Jotoro, you’ll find familiar fare like street corn and quesadillas. There’s also Joe’s Egg Rolls, Korean-style barbecue beef with cheese and rice, served with a side of queso.
Always a fan of chips, we ordered the Street Corn Chicken Nachos. The starter was the perfect way to sample both the street corn at Jotoro and its chicken, which was flavorful and tender.
Unable to decide between queso, guacamole, or salsa? At Jotoro, you don’t have to. We added the Three Amigos appetizer to our order, a sampling of queso, guac, and house-made salsa with tortilla chips that were so thin and perfectly cooked, we could not stop dipping them.
Jotoro’s entrée menu may appear traditional at first glance, but the flavors on it are anything but. The house tacos, which can be ordered with a side of rice and beans, come in varieties like crispy tempura fish, spicy Vietnamese steak, and grilled tofu and pineapple.
Enchiladas with fillings like mojo pork and spinach and mushroom get smothered in cheese and sauce. The “knife and fork” burritos can be ordered as is, or served without the tortilla in a bowl. There’s even a traditional taco salad, served in the classic crispy tortilla shell we loved at the fast food taco joints of our childhoods.
We ordered both the Baja shrimp tacos, with Thai-chili lime and cilantro, and the birria tacos, slow-braised Korean barbecue beef with a spicy dipping sauce. Both were delicious, as were the side of rice and beans we split.
The Jotoro website recommends wearing your “hungry pants” to the restaurant and it seems like a good pro tip. We were too full to move after our meal, but luckily were steps from the Tampa Riverwalk, so we walked off our full bellies after paying the check.
Know Before You Go
- It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with parking at Sparkman Wharf before your visit to Jotoro, especially if you’ve made a reservation, which is recommended.
- There are three suggested parking areas for this popular shopping and dining destination: the Garrison Lot on Channelside Drive, the Channelside Parking Garage on South 12th Street, and the Cumberland Parking Garage on East Cumberland Avenue.
- The TECO Line Streetcar is also a great option for visiting Jotoro, as the trolleys stop at the Wharf every 15 minutes. You can also hop on the Tampa Riverwalk and make a night of it, strolling along the water to and from your dinner date.
- Be sure to examine Jotoro’s menu for items in blue font with an agave leaf graphic. These items, according to the restaurant, just may be “the best you’ll ever have.” Both our street corn nachos and birria tacos made that list, and we can confirm the dishes were extraordinary.
- Looking to prolong the date night fun? We made a day out of our visit to the Sparkman Wharf area, visiting the Florida Aquarium and American Victory Ship before dinner, grabbing cocktails and sitting outside at the wharf for happy hour, then taking a spin on the water taxi after our walk along the river.
- The Tampa Riverwalk Attraction Pass can help get more of those activities in at a discounted cost, as a one-day pass costs just $55 for adults and gets pass holders access to some of the best attractions along the Riverwalk.
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