A small sign at the entrance to the ZAZA Kitchen restaurant promises “Authentic Mexican Goodness” to those who venture inside.
The bistro has delivered on that pledge in a big way, based on its success since its February 2018 opening, which brings a smile to the face of owner Michael Cardascia.
Open seven days a week, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, ZAZA is patterned after the taquerias – eateries that specialize in tacos – that Cardascia had developed a fondness for over the years.
“It’s pretty much authentic Mexican food, featuring ‘street tacos,’” explained the Long Island native. “They’re pretty much what we’re known for.” He defined “street tacos” as corn tortillas stuffed with the meat of your choice and topped with cilantro and onion.
“We also have several other Mexican specialties; burritos, fajitas,” he added. “People love our fajitas. We have Taco Tuesday and a fajita special. Sometimes we sell more fajitas than tacos on Taco Tuesday. We also have Fajita Friday. It’s $9.99 for fajitas, all day.”
The varied menu also features tortas, a Mexican submarine sandwich, quesadillas, enchiladas, tamales and other popular Mexican delights, as well as burgers, salads, wings, pizza, desserts and more, all with a Mexican flair.
There’s a full-service, sit-down bar with Happy Hour specials.
While there are other purveyors on Marco of cuisine from America’s neighbor to south, Cardascia said ZAZA is unique in its approach.
“I think it’s just that we try to keep it as authentic as we can,” he said. “My chefs try to make the meals exactly as they would for their families in their hometowns in Mexico. That’s how they’re creating our meals.”
ZAZA is the second restaurant Cardascia has created. The first was the award winning north Naples eatery Zen Asian BBQ, which opened in December 2015. Zen Asian blends a rustic Japanese pub with a Korean barbeque and features authentic dishes from those countries, as well as Thailand.
His landlord there is also the landlord of the Old Marco space that ZAZA occupies, which played a role in Cardascia opening a restaurant on the island.
“He told me about the space being available,” explained Cardascia. “I wanted to try something different. The Mexican restaurants that I like to go to are pretty much taquerias, they mostly serve tacos and I’d always wanted to do something like that.”
Zen Asian, in a way, played a role in the creation of ZAZA’s name.
“I wanted to have another restaurant with a ‘Z,’” explained Cardascia. “I couldn’t come up with any good Mexican names. I had the ‘Z’ and ‘A’ for Zen Asian and added a second ‘Z-A’ and put the two together for ZAZA.”
He’s eagerly anticipating the impending addition of a new menu item, Detroit-style pizza. The pie features a thick, rectangular crust with the cheese on the bottom and the sauce on top. Cardascia is awaiting a City of Marco Island permit allowing the installation of a pizza oven so ZAZA can start offering the Motor City creation.
“It’s a fantastic style of pizza,” he said. “It’s taking off all over the country right now. It’s outstanding pizza. Even in New York City there are some Detroit-style pizza places now. I think it’s going to be a big hit here on Marco Island.”
Cardascia plans to hold a free pizza weekend once the oven is installed to introduce the variation to people who haven’t tried it.
He’s also on the hunt for expansion opportunities in other markets.
“I’d like to open up restaurants in college towns, because they’re a lot less seasonal and also in some areas on the east coast of Florida that are a lot less seasonal,” he explained. “I think the ZAZA concept would work great in a college town, so we’re actively looking for something right now.”
ZAZA Kitchen is located at 1095 Bald Eagle Drive. For more information, visit eatatZAZA.com or call 239-970-5205.