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Kissimmee restaurants that value customers part 1: El Tenampa Mexican Restaurant

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When I moved to Florida, one of the things I sorely missed was the wonderful Mexican food from the ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago. I babysat for a Mexican family when I was younger and developed an appreciation for real Mexican food. Sorry, but Tex-Mex doesn't cut it (no true ethnic cuisine should have the name of an American state in its title), and the chain restaurants are okay but woefully inadequate when it comes to authenticity.

Then one day I discovered El Tenampa Mexican Restaurant in a nondescript, almost hidden little storefront at 4565 West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway. It's adjacent to a Mexican market and very easy to miss, since the sign blends in. Look for the big Indian Diner sign, and El Tenampa is right next door.

I knew this place had potential from the moment I walked in and saw the horchata and and urns full of various aguas frescas (fresh fruit beverages) lined up in the back. Indeed, El Tenampa brings a taste of Mexico right to Kissimmee. For those who think quesadillas are flat things made from stuffed flour tortillas, you need to come to this restaurant and order quesadillas casaras (literally, house quesadillas). The fillings are stuffed in deep fried corn pockets in the way that quesadillas are made at home by Abuela (grandma).

Some of the dishes are not for the uninitiated, with things like tripe and cactus, but rest assured that you'll find something familiar enough to enjoy. There are plenty of standards like tacos and enchiladas along with the less common dishes.

People who review El Tenampa on Trip Advisor almost unfailingly praise the food but warn about the surroundings. Yes, it looks sketchy, but don't let that scare you off. I go there all the time, at various times of the day and evening, and have never had a problem. You'll know as soon as you walk in that it's a locals' hangout, but the dining room is almost always punctuated with a couple of tourist parties.

The food is enough to draw me to El Tenampa, but since this article is about Kissimmee restaurants that value their customers, I can happily say that they go above and beyond. Over time they're gotten to know that I'm a regular, and they once randomly gave me a free appetizer and a free dessert on another occasion. There was no reason to do so...no problem to make up for. It was just a gesture to say, "We appreciate your business."

El Tenampa has delicious desserts, including tres leches cake and fried ice cream, but here's a little local's tip. Go into the adjacent grocery store after your meal and choose from among the vast and insanely inexpensive display of fresh Mexican pastries. You can even take one home if you're already full from your fiesta.

If you're in the Walt Disney World area and you get tired of the endless chain restaurants, make the trip to El Tenampa. It's right by Medieval Times and Wal-Mart, and my favorite RaceTrac gas station is almost right across the street. You can read about how the RaceTrac appreciates its customers in this article.

Here are two other Kissimmee restaurants on Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway that know how to treat people right, unlike the Denny's where the manager publicly confronted me at my table for giving coupons to two other diners. You can read that story here. Meanwhile, here are links to stories of the places to patronize:

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