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The Bar Tab: The Grasshopper has tradition, Tex-Mex food and imported taps

When restaurateur Dino Soto talks about the Grasshopper, you can feel the reverence he has for his grandmother’s recipes, his Texas childhood and his Chicano culture.

“As you grow up, you just take for granted the convenience of having your grandmother make food for you and the unconditional love you feel from that,” Soto says.

Now the dishes Soto remembers from his youth are on the Tex-Mex menu at the nearly 2-month-old Grasshopper (or “El Chapulin,” in Spanish). And, of course, there is a grown-up twist, which comes in the form of margaritas and Mexican beers.

The Grasshopper may be new to South Sarasota, but it is already a beloved fixture in Wauseon, Ohio and Adrian, Mich. The flagship Michigan location opened in 1971 (the year Soto was born) under owners Jesse and Cleo Rosales, a family from Edinburg, Texas. Cleo Rosales is Soto’s spry 82-year-old grandmother, who helped him in the kitchen before the Florida restaurant’s launch on April 16.

“I feel like I’m getting passed down a tradition,” Soto says. “To hear the stories that came with the food my grandmother used to make was such a cool experience. I’m glad I can share that.”

Though Soto was raised in the Grasshopper scene, this is his first time pioneering a locale. He worked for Outback Steakhouse for 18 years but always envisioned himself with a Grasshopper of his own. Soto calls the concept “simple casual,” meaning that the Grasshopper offers the same price points as a Chipotle, for example, but with the full-service environment of an Outback.

I concur, and the proof is in the special wet burrito. At $10.75, it is the size of a Chipotle burrito but significantly fresher and more addictive, with its rice, beans, cubed steak and melted cheeses (ask for the chili con carne on the side and smother it all over the top). I have gone back for two in one week and I live 25 minutes away.

“It’s truly Tex-Mex soul food,” Soto says, from the secret chili powder and mole chalupas to the chorizo con huevos.
Happy hour is from 4 to 7 p.m. daily with $3.50 margaritas and $2.50 beers. Dos Equis, Corona Light and Negra Modelo are on tap, and there peach daiquiris and raspberry pina coladas to slurp.

Follow the green Chapulin to wet burrito and frozen margarita heaven.