There’s a hidden gem tucked inside Laketown Wharf. Juan Taco is located on the ground floor within the retail spaces of Laketown Wharf on the Thomas Drive side of the building, conveniently across the street from Pineapple Willy’s and the beautiful beaches of Panama City Beach.

If you’re renting your condo at Laketown Wharf, SunBird, or the Shores of Panama then you’re in luck, you’re just a short walk to some of the best food on the coast.

worst-taco

This week I had the pleasure to have lunch with friends and family at Juan Taco, and they did not disappoint. We arrived shortly after they opened in hopes of beating the crowd. Inside we were greeted by the owner, Juan Martinez, whose friendly and inviting personality gives you a sense of comfort as soon as you walk through the door. The ambiance is very relaxed and laid back. Not only is their hospitality authentic, but even their menu also has a personalized touch as it is written by hand to give you up to date specials and menu items. Every morning the chefs come in and prepare their tortillas from scratch and the food is cooked fresh. The barbacoa, carnitas, and pork belly are slow cooked daily to give you that amazing flavor that you’ll want to keep coming back for.

juan-taco-menu

When it came time to order I chose to let Juan decide and surprise us with his specialties.

The restaurant is furnished with tables, benches, and countertops all built by hand by Juan and his partner chef, Jose Duarte. Juan delivered with a large variety of delicious food that seemed endless. The table-spread consisted of chips with salsa, guac, and queso, a chicken quesadilla loaded with mozzarella and pico de gallo, Notorious P.I.G. tacos which consisted of pork belly, roasted red peppers, pickled onions, and cilantro, El Chapo tacos that had Mexican pork, mozzarella, jalapenos, and cilantro, and the Red Rooster tacos of chicken, pico de gallo, mozzarella, and jalapenos, plus a bonus side of rice and beans. Each meal was served with mild salsa rojo, salsa verde, and a very spicy salsa habanero. Juan also brought us some of his signature taco sauce to try, which was out of this world.

juan-taco-dish

These were hands down the best tacos that I have ever tasted, you could taste the authenticity through the mixture of flavors and it was obvious that Juan and Jose put a lot of thought and creativity into what they’re serving. The Notorious P.I.G. was by far the biggest hit at our table, the roasted pork belly was perfectly tender and packed with flavor, the pickled red onions offered a splash of color and a fiery piquant flavor. The El Chapo had just the right amount of kick from the jalapenos that were evened out with the mozzarella and fresh cilantro. The Red Rooster was fantastic and the chicken was so tender and cooked to perfection, just as it was in the chicken quesadilla. You could taste the freshness in each of the sauces, the taco sauce was my favorite and had just the right amount of zing to it.

After finishing our meal I was able to sit down with Juan for a few minutes and ask him a couple questions. First, I wanted to know how Juan Taco got started, how did all of this come to fruition. “I started selling tacos on Facebook,” Juan started, “Well, I got in an accident, I almost cut my thumb off with a table saw. So I kind of stopped a lot of things that I was doing at the time, and I started like selling tacos on Facebook just as boredom really. And it finally just caught on, people were like, ‘Open a restaurant, open a restaurant.’ – so, we finally opened a restaurant.”

So, what makes Juan Taco unique? “I think our approach, the way we cook things is very simple,” Juan says. “I don’t like to use anything packaged or pre-bought, just keep everything very simple, and try to show the meats off.”

As far as what the taqueria’s fans can expect in the future for Juan Taco, “Oh man, well I’m waiting for my modeling career to kick off again,” Juan Jokes. “No, um, we want to just keep growing. We’re hoping to open up a bigger spot next year. Keep the core idea the same but just keep growing in size. Just to be able to accommodate more people, to share the food with more people.”

For me, Juan Taco was one of the best restaurant experiences that I’ve had in Panama City Beach in the 11 years that I’ve lived here. From the hospitality to the atmosphere, the food, and every small detail in between, they truly are cut from a different cloth.

Written By:

Melissa Dowis

IG @hello.darlin

 

 


As I walk through a plush botanical garden I catch myself at an abrupt halt only to merely run my fingers through the emerald vines that are intertwined above my head. Strings of lights illuminated the overflowing garden with a path made of stones leading to the entrance of The Lotus Café. I look to my right and am astonished to see a hair studio that solely uses organics instead of chemicals to dye hair. A soft splashing sound from a rocky waterfall composes a harmonic melody as I walk the trail of stones to what appears to be the front door to the restaurant. Walking in I am greeted by a woman who has dreadlocks that touch her lower back and a smile that is beaming from ear-to-ear. “Hello sweetie. You may have a seat wherever you like,” says the cute hippy-like soul as she hands me a menu.

 

The Lotus Café at the Zen Garden serves much more than just a fresh and organic menu. Amongst the beautiful scenery there is a chic Shoppe that sells air plants, crystals, homemade spices, healing salves, wind chimes, driftwood pieces and traditional earth-bound trinkets. To home-made soaps, to Buddhist wall hangings my attention was set on knowing more. What is this place and why had I never been before? The owner of the shop enlightened me that the shop was created by her and her husband, natives of Panama City. They decided to name it Wild Root, which was an electrifying brand name based on the products sold and the atmosphere present. Fifty dollars lighter I was hypnotized by a lingering smell of freshly ground coffee beans. I trusted my gut instinct and followed the scent that enticed my taste buds.

 

I find myself standing in front of a very hip and trendy juice/coffee bar. This is no regular juice bar and it is made crystal clear by the state-of-the-art coffee and expresso machines that serve the locally admired Amivida coffee. Not to mention, it is guaranteed that all juices are made fresh and with raw and unfiltered ingredients that taste as if you stepped into a magical garden of juiced fruits. I was simply amazed by the different vibes settling over me. From walking in the garden that I was wrapped around by, to the organic hair studio, to the cute quaint restaurant, to the chic Shoppe and now to a modern juice bar I was undeniably content.

 

I look to my right and see a younger female with her hair in a high pony tail dressed in a striped sports bra, see through shirt, pair of yoga pants and a yoga mat. I guess from the look on my face she knew I was not a local. She smiled at me and asked me if I had ever tried her all-time favorite: The Peanut Butter Buddha Smoothie with raw Cacoa. Without hesitation, I ordered the smoothie. My taste buds jumped for joy and a surge of stimulation shook through my body. I profusely thanked her and she smiled and invited me to Free Yoga Sundays. I totally should have guessed from the vibes there would be a Zen Garden Yoga Studio.

 

Located in the heart of Panama City Beach on the grounds of the Zen Garden, The Lotus Garden Café is one of the best kept secrets in the area. If you want to step away from the bustle of your busy life and immerse yourself in a low-key local getaway the Zen Garden is the perfect spot to be. As Zen Garden promotes a simple yet brilliant quote, “Let thy food be thy medicine.”

Author credit: Sarah Barwick

Image credit: LotusCafeZen.com