New tacos, tapas bar opens in downtown Kissimmee

Photo/Jackie Espinosa

The restaurant offers a fusion of Spanish and Mexican cuisine.

Visitors to downtown’s main drag may have noticed some new tunes and aromas coming from the open doors beside Kissimmee Diner.

That’s because the owner of that Broadway Street staple has opened a new bar with a focus on tacos, tapas and live entertainment.

“We want to show that Kissimmee is a destination in itself,” said Jackie Espinosa,

Photo/Jackie Espinosa
The restaurant offers a fusion of Spanish and Mexican cuisine.

owner of Matador Tacos and Tapas Bar. “This town has a rich history and we wanted to improve on it.”

Espinosa and her husband, Jorge, also run a ballroom dance studio on the same block, so finding a way to incorporate entertainment was always a priority, she said. The couple frequently calls on friends in the arts industry to provide live acts that range from jazz bands, mariachi players and flamenco dancers depending on the night.

Espinosa said the goal was to create an upscale yet inviting nighttime atmosphere right in the heart of downtown.

But the new destination didn’t happen overnight.

The journey began when Espinosa and her family took over the neighboring Kissimmee Diner last year. The family has owned the building for over a decade, but the space was formerly occupied by southern cooking spot Joanie’s Diner.

The venue underwent a shaky time following the death of its namesake. That’s when the Espinosa family decided to get into the restaurant business firsthand and preserve the diner’s quaint, small town touch.

“We interviewed 18 potential tenants and all of them wanted to change it into something completely different,” Espinosa explained. “We felt like downtown Kissimmee needed a diner, and we wanted to preserve it.”

The Espinosas set to work gutting the kitchen and remodeling the space with a cowboy theme.

One popular menu item is the Kowboy Burger, a nod to both the decor and the mascot of nearby Osceola High School.

The restaurant officially re-opened as Kissimmee Diner Oct. 19. Patrons welcomed its return, but Espinosa said she already had her eyes set on a new business venture in the suite next door.

“We wanted to attract a younger crowd at night,” the owner said. “We just weren’t sure what people wanted.”

So, she asked.

Espinosa surveyed patrons after the diner re-opened to see what kind of eatery they wished to see at 120 Broadway.

She found many residents favored a taco or Mexican joint, while tourists – especially European visitors – noted a lack of local tapas restaurants, small-plated eateries popular in Spain.

The freshly gathered feedback became a launchpad for Matador Tacos and Tapas. The restaurant offers a fusion of Spanish and Mexican cuisine that often incorporates ingredients imported from the countries they originated from.

Espinosa said 25 chefs were interviewed before one was selected. He’s a Puerto Rican native who spent several years abroad in Spain and later completed an internship in Mexico.

From menu items like paelia and empanadas to eclectic décor to the chef himself, each detail of Matador was chosen to embrace its dual-culture theme, Espinosa said.

“We wanted to make sure both were represented equally,” she said.

Espinosa jokingly refers to Matador and Kissimmee Diner as a restaurant marriage. The two are separated by a single door, with the diner offering breakfast and lunch options and Matador operating only during dinner hours.

Still, some overlap exists. Patrons can sample Matador dishes in the daytime, thanks to a “Taste of Matador” selection incorporated into the diner menu next door. The atmosphere is markedly different at the two restaurants, but both share a single kitchen and serve drinks from the same signature mason jar glassware.

Presiding over the marriage of two establishments has been a labor of love, Espinosa said. It’s also been a family affair.

Both of Espinosa’s daughters pitch in as servers at both restaurants when they’re not busy with school. Espinosa said her daughters and husband have always been an integral part in operating the family’s seven Central Florida businesses.

“We have an ‘all hands-on-deck’ mentality during busy times where we all have to pull together,” she said. “They’ve grown up pitching in and helping out at our businesses.”

The family plans to work together once again to open the building’s final ground level suite by October. The adjoining room will serve as Matador’s private events spot and cater to business parties and other functions.

Until then, Espinosa said she is thrilled by the outpouring of community support Matador has received since it opened in May.

“Those who wanted something new are loving it,” the business owner said. “So many people have told us Kissimmee needed a place like this.”