Warning. Entering the sprawling beach shack-inspired restaurant bartaco in Port Chester may leave you with a case of geographical amnesia. Between the five steps it takes to reach the bar from the door, you’ll be transported to a surf shack in Montauk or Baja, any memory of the city of Port Chester erased once you’re surrounded by its white-washed walls. And better (closer) yet, a land-locked version will be coming to Stamford soon.
bartaco has three distinct volumes, laid-back lunch, taco-filled dinners and late-night dining that escalates to a scene complete with a gorgeous back-drop and menu that seamlessly matches each mood. The food at bartaco is based loosely on Mexican street food and is heavily influenced by the tides.The menu is broken up into tacos, not tacos, sides and rotisserie chicken (half or whole).
The tacos include several seafood inspirations such as red snapper a la plancha and thai shrimp, traditional tacos including tongue and chorizo, as well as some
baja-influenced pork chile verde and baja fish tacos
. If you’re not of the taco persuasion, a number of salads, tamales, arepas and vegetable sides are your friend. Ordering a la carte is the way to go if you’re at bartaco for lunch. The tacos are just $2.50 each and the not-tacos average $3 to $5, fairly standard for taco fare, but down-right cheap compared to most dining options.
If you’re dining in the evening or with a group of friends, you’ll want to opt for a bartaco tray or trays. They come in two sizes, small and large, and are filled on the whim of the chef who adds tacos, tamales, sides and guacamole until there isn’t a square inch of tray left. This Mexican tapas approach lends itself well to the street food-influenced menu. Eaten alone, each element can lose its lustre, but together, a tray filled with these bites offers a melody of flavor and textures.
bartaco’s guacamole is particularly good, with hunks of avocados left intact with a barely discernible note of garlic and spice
. This knack for subtlety and pairings is found throughout the menu and presentation. It may come as no surprise that the cohesion found at bartaco is similar to the owners other successful series of restaurants, Barcelona.
Washing your tacos down with a margarita is highly encouraged, if not mandatory.
At each corner of the bar stands a lime squeeze, ready, willing and able to handle each made-to-order margarita. If you’re a fan of the margarita mix, (first, I’m sorry to hear that), I dare you to go back to a mix after a fresh margarita. There is no secret here, just simple and fresh ingredients at work with bartaco offering an abundance of tequilas and a few mezcals, all in all a perfect complement to the taco.
Later in the evening, the volume turns up as the crowd thickens. For the late night diners (they are open until 3 am), the food is still abundant and the cocktail menu gets more creative with
sassy drinks like the Smoky Cholula, a mixture of mezcal, guava nectar and lemon juice
. A DJ arrives and bartaco will become a scene.
Anytime you visit bartaco, the food should be digested with the space, a well-designed and breezy loft-like cube, made warm and inviting with the addition of huge black and white photographs, round rattan lights and blue and white touches throughout. An outdoor area makes use of an expansive deck with even more seating options, so close to the water you could ditch your wheels and take your boat home.
The result of this beautiful design and careful staging, is an atmosphere so evocative of a beach-side watering hole, it practically conjures a side of salty ocean breeze with your tacos.
See you in Stamford, bartaco
bartaco is open seven days a week from 11:30 am to 3:30 am, located at Willett Avenue in Port Chester, NY. A second location is opening at 222 Summer Street in Stamford, CT. Take-out service and a small shop selling salsas and other bartaco items will be opening soon. | Twitter:
[Photographs by Tom McGovern]