In case you haven’t noticed, we’re experiencing a taco moment.
The latest in the list of talented Connecticut chefs to jump on the taco bandwagon (or in his case, back on it) is Arturo Franco-Camacho and his wife Suzette, the dynamic pair behind our state’s latest taco joint, Tacuba in Branford. Opening just this past week,
Tacuba isn’t exactly in the neighborhood, but trust me when I tell you this is a place you should know about.
First, some credentials. The Franco-Camacho's are the folks behind one of the state’s first taco carts sixteen years ago, the chef behind the initial iteration of South Norwalk’s Habana, owner and chef of New Haven’s beloved Roomba and upscale Bespoke, and currently running Branford’s Suburban, and now Tacuba and an
adjacent wine bar, Swill
Three parts Mexican and one part Roomba, the menu and the space is their most playful collaboration yet.
An inspired interpretation of the neighborhood taco joints and taquerias of Arturo’s youth combined with the colorful and sunny disposition of its owners
The name Tacuba was chosen for both its literal and intended meaning.
Tacuba is both a street and municipality in Mexico City, and understood to be ground-zero for Mexican street food
. The witty play on the combination of Taco and Cuba is a happy accident and a few brief ingredient excursions away from Mexico are subtle and fitting. A touch of coconut milk enters into a ceviche and arepas make a scheduled appearance. But rest assured that most of
Franco-Camacho’s early menu is largely inspired by his mother's taqueria in Tijuana. Although they are still tweaking the menu as we speak, it reads and eats as a well-balanced composition of tacos, tortas, ceviches and salads with a requisite full rum and tequila bar supporting list of cocktails including a a Paloma and house-made sangrias.
What we did try during this early excursion made up for the trek. A trio of tacos included the al pastor, carne asada, and a baja fish taco. Partial to and excited for this interpretation of the al pastor, we were also surprised by the fish,
a tempura battered mahi-mahi, with cabbage slaw, pico de gallo and crema mexicana
. Tacos with subtle layers of ingredients clearly thrive in these experienced hands. And at $4 per taco, these are not going to break the bank, but obviously skew higher than your traditional taco joint.
There are some reprises from their days at Roomba. The Mexican corn and a lobster arepa were both once popular and their following will be happy to see they’ve retained them here. Moist, airy, yet dense with flavor,
the arepa (really more of a griddled cake) is a combination of sweet corn, oaxaca cheese, cornmeal and salt and pepper, topped with lobster, onion, corn, tomatoes, lobster broth, fresh lobster, avocado and mexican cream.
Although we only tried the calamari ceviche, I'd insist on ordering one of these again to balance out the heavier proteins of the tacos. The calamari retained just a touch of heat from habanero peppers which was quickly cooled down by a hint of coconut milk. The salads were overwhelming fruit-based. A watermelon, greens and cheese salad was basic, but a marinated fruit salad tossed with a light dressing with red chilies a clear win.
A few other notes from the front lines.
The tortillas used for the tacos are made for Tacuba with a press and their own recipe that blends three types of corn flour.
You’ll find smears of guacamole within some of the tacos, just enough to give them each a buttery creaminess. As far as drinks go, my vote goes to the White Sangria or a Tamarind Jarritos to pair nicely with almost anything on the menu. The best seat in the house if you're solo or with a friend is probably at the bar, which faces the small open kitchen.
Overall, the space matches the menu's modern yet homespun Mexican feel. A row of old wooden theater chairs salvaged from a New Haven theater form a row of seating in the front of the restaurant and a hot pink wall riddled with relief crosses decorates a space at the rear in a space filled with a few high tops more suited to sipping tequila. Bold colors, green plants and touches of wood throughout keep it bright, and corrugated aluminum accents and small potted succulents and hints to the country of Franco-Camacho's youth (such as the small wall of Mexican stamps, a bowl of chiclets) bring it back to the arid south of the border inspiration.
Although there is clearly a ground swell of trendy taco joints, it is not just a trend at Tacuba, but more of a natural next step as Franco-Camacho returns to the food of his youth and his family deepends their roots in the Branford community. The food here is lighter and brighter (more bartaco than Bodega) and focused in the hands of Franco-Camacho than at many Mexican-inspired restaurants cropping up across the state and feels a bit more family friendly and cozy. Admittedly a trek for those of us in Fairfield County, I'm going to insist on stopping here when driving along the Connecticut shoreline (which is often in the summer).
Tacuba is located at 1205 Main Street, Brandford, CT, 203-208-0736.