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.
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.
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.
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.