“South of the border” came to the north of the island this week. Monday, Zaza Kitchen, or just Zaza, opened next to the Island Bike Shop on Bald Eagle Drive, in the space formerly occupied by Kirk’s Coney Island. The casual eatery offers “authentic Mexican food,” said owner Mike Cardascia, adding “two things we don’t own – a freezer and a microwave oven. Everything is fresh.”

What the restaurant does own is a smoker, sitting out back, which is used to smoke the meats served in tacos and other dishes, and even tomatoes. Tacos are a specialty, served with carnitas, or pulled pork, carne asada or steak, al pastor, with caramelized pork and seasoned pineapple, fish, shrimp, brisket or two varieties of chicken. Described as “street tacos,” they come taqueria-style in a soft corn tortilla with cilantro and onion.

The taco prices are hard to beat, with only the brisket, fish and shrimp tacos above the $3 mark. But this week, Zaza is beating their own price, if you come in the afternoon. From 3 to 6 p.m. through Sunday, every customer who comes in is entitled to a free taco, the carnitas variety.

More: Photos: Zaza's Kitchen

“This is our way to build up a little interest in the restaurant, and introduce ourselves to Marco,” said Cardascia. On Tuesday afternoon, most customers coming through the front door weren’t even aware of the free offer, and no sign advertised it. The first item many people ordered was a “Zazarita,” the restaurant’s take on a Margarita.

Made with a “wine-based tequila,” said server Daniela Rosendiz, as Zaza’s license covers beer and wine but not liquor, the drinks are served in a generous size, rimmed with salt and smoking, from dry ice added to the glass. Zaza also features the Mexican beers beloved by American drinkers, including Tecate, Corona, Pacifico Claro and Negra Modelo.  


Cardascia is a veteran of the Southwest Florida restaurant scene, as owner of the award-winning Zen Asian BBQ restaurant in North Naples. He hopes to make his new Marco eatery the prototype for more if the concept is as popular as he expects.

“We have been working on the concept of Zaza Kitchen for more than a year. We were just waiting for the right space and chef to execute our vision of a lunch and dinner restaurant featuring authentic Mexican meals at an incredible value,” he said. “Our plan is to open several more Zaza Kitchens in Southwest Florida over the next few years.”

Cardascia’s executive chef is Robin Lindsey, who pointed out their offerings go well beyond tacos. Additional specialties include burritos, enchiladas, tamales, and quesadillas, all except the tamales available with a variety of meats, and various toppings.

“It’s all about big bold flavor – Mexican specialties mixed with Latin fusion street food,” he said. With the vegetables for their homemade salsa smoked along with their meat, “we literally smoke the competition.”

Cardascia also touted the torta, an oversized Mexican sandwich choice of meat, lettuce, tomato, onion, and crema. It is served with charro beans or papas fritas, steak-cut French fries. Go with the carne asada, and it is smoked for 12 hours, then grilled, he reiterated. They also serve appetizers including Mexican-style shrimp cocktail with avocado, salads, sides such as guacamole, “Zaza burgers,” desserts and a kids’ menu.

Jim and Pam Bullinger, visiting from Michigan, wandered in just by seeing the colorful “Dia de los Muertos,” or Day of the Dead, graphics on the outside of Zaza.

“We were touring around, and got hungry and thirsty,” said Jim. “This was a great stop – awesome tacos and wonderful salsa.” They also gave enthusiastic thumbs up to the Zazaritas.

Zaza was supposed to open a week earlier, but had to delay due to electrical problems.

“Yeah, the power kept going off,” said Cardascia. Part of the building over the bike shop still sports a blue tarp, souvenir of Irma, but things seemed to be running smoothly on Tuesday. They were still working out details, though, as Lindsey suggested pushing back their opening time back half an hour to 11:30 a.m.

With approximately 2,200 square feet, the dining room has 40 seats, and hopes to cater later in the evening to servers from other restaurants looking for a place to relax after their shift.

If you go


  • 1095 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island
  • 239-970-5205
  • Hours: 11:30 – 9 p.m. Sunday – Thursday
  • 11:30 – 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
  • All major credit cards accepted



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