Food Adventurer, seeks lunch authenticity
When I took a job in ocala I didn't think it would be that strenuous of a trip, but taking two hours out of each day just to drive was exhausting. I was most disappointed that I would miss out on my Gainesville lunch outings any day I wanted. So when a co-worker asked about grabbing some lunch, the last thing on my mind was a typical fast chain restaurant. All I could think was, "Where can I go in Ocala to satisfy my appetite for adventurous food spots?"
I have to say Ocala at lunch is not exactly happening. There are quite a few chains, confirmed by another coworker who has lived in the city her whole life, and a few locally-owned places. A little research later let me in on a few fast food, but still unique-to-Ocala restaurants, one of which was my most recent lunch outing -- La Hacienda on SR 40 East of Interstate 75 . It helped that it was about three minutes down the road from my job.
For all you Gainesvillians, La Hacienda is very akin to the atmosphere, menu, and pricing of La Tienda Latina on SW 13th St., down to the homemade corn tortillas and breads. It was so similar that I even ordered my usual La Tienda order: a torta, which is a Spanish/Italian/Portuguese word for a type of bread.
La Hacienda had all the usual Mexican fare: burritos, fajitas, tacos, tortas--the works at pretty fair prices. My coworker and I started out with some of the in-house made chips and salsas, one of which was the perfect amount of spicy and flavorful with a thicker texture. He opted for the Carnitas a la Mexicana plate, and I ordered the Carnitas Torta.
I knew the sandwiches were typically pretty big, but this sandwich was almost too much. I was not as pleased with this torta as i have been with La Tienda's. There was more bread then anything else, and it was a lot flakier than I prefer it. I was also under the impression that the carnitas pork would be a sautéed shredded meat since I chose the "sautéed" pork as opposed to the "Milanese" breaded style. While not what I expected, it was pretty flavorful pork. There was the traditional torta sandwich toppings of lettuce, mayonnaise, tomato and jalapeno peppers (I opted out of the raw onion), but the bread was so overpowering that I needed the sauce to dip it in. FOLLOW THIS LINK for a complete La Hacienda menu.
I was envious of my coworker's dish: carnitas pork shredded and sautéed with onions like I thought it would be for my sandwich, and sides of refried beans, lettuce and tomato, yellow rice, and corn tortillas. My coworker didn't even touch the tortillas; instead he dove into the tender-looking pork with a few bites of each side in between. I now know on my next visit to get a "plate" as opposed to a sandwich as the plate seems much more well-rounded and focused on the true flavors and textures of the protein, whereas sandwich was not and the bread was less-than-great. For me to say the bread was not great is certainly saying something, as I am a bread fanatic and will eat just about any type.
Most of these small, family-owned places are pretty similar, but I have learned that simpler is probably better. For under $5, though, I shouldn't complain. I really did get what I paid for.
The Pluses and Minuses of La Hacienda:
La Hacienda + indicators: Excellent lunch specials, friendly staff, spacious lunch spot
La Hacienda - indicators: Service was on the slow side.
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