Step through the door at Sayulita in South Glastonbury, and, right away, you’ll see: this is no ordinary Mexican restaurant. Clean and simple, with lots of wood and natural light, Sayulita features what’s fresh and local from the farms of South Glastonbury to the shores of Stonington. A poster of a surfing contest with a sugar skull, a thick turquoise glass bottle for the water that’s brought to your table. On my last visit, ’50s music played in the background. It’s casual. It’s comfortable. It’s a departure from most Mexican you’ve ever had before. Named after the seaside surfing town north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita is the most recent restaurant endeavor of Adam and Bill Driggs, owners of 2Hopewell and Birch Hill Tavern. With Chef Van Hurd, of Hell’s Kitchen fame, at the helm, you’re in for a uniquely tasty adventure here.
Sometimes the most excellent feasts can be found at the beginning and end of the menu—appetizers and desserts. Add quality cocktails and out-of-the-ordinary tacos to round it out and what you’ve got is my favorite way to enjoy a meal at Sayulita.
Spiced Autumn is pretty in pink; the spicy margarita is garnished with a jalapeño.Choose from an assortment of margaritas—classic, spicy (featuring their house-made candied jalapeño nectar), skinny and more—to one of their seasonal cocktail offerings. La Pera is a tart blend of Espolon Reposado, Mathilde Pear (liqueur), pear puree, lime juice and cinnamon. Spiced Autumn is pretty in pink and on the sweeter side, made with Barr Hill gin, house-made mulled cranberries, Cointreau Noir, autumn spiced syrup (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom), lime juice and ginger sugar.
Sayulita creates their own coffee-infused Espolon tequila with local So G Coffee Roasters’ coffee, vanilla beans and some additional secret ingredients. After a week, they filter it to be enjoyed as a smooth after-dinner sip, or as part of one of their seasonal cocktails. It’s currently featured in La Calabaza, made with Crop pumpkin vodka, pumpkin puree, house-made horchata and fall spices.
Try a salsa flight with tortilla chips to get things started: salsa traditional, salsa verde, mango habanero salsa and jalapeno hummus. The hummus is a new and welcome addition to the flight crew. Attention to detail shines everywhere—even in the carefully executed presentation of hummus, with its stripes in the colors of the Mexican flag. Almost too pretty to eat, but don’t let it stop you from digging right in.
You probably won’t find roasted poblano clam chowder in Sayulita, Mexico. But you’ll find it on Chef Van Hurd’s winter menu--and it’s fantastic. If you’re a chowder fan, you’ll love this Mexi-twist on creamy New England clam chowder with ribbons of roasted poblano and sweet corn, served with pasilla chile-dusted oyster crackers on the side. I was sad to see it disappear from the menu as the weather turned warmer and thrilled to see its recent return. Other local seafood places can’t even come close to this.
Oh, say, can you ceviche?On to the ceviche de playa—it starts with sweet Bomster scallops from Stonington, chopped up with fresh-squeezed lime juice and a little salt. Chef lets them “cook” like that for at least four hours. Next, he lays out avocado, mixes the ceviche with some jicama, jalapeño, mango, tomato, a little bit of hot sauce and then, “We make it beautiful. This is my baby right here. It has been very popular lately.” Every bit as gorgeous as it is delicious, the contrasting tastes and textures—sweet, spicy, creamy, crunchy—garnished with watermelon radish and crispy plantain planks create a showcase dish, perfect for sharing.
Candied jalapeños are ready to add a crispy kickNow, about that candied jalapeño nectar. On a recent visit, I learned that’s where the magical candied jalapeños come from. Turns out the hot pepper rings are a by-product of the syrup they make for their spicy margarita. So why waste? Chef Van Hurd lets them dry to complete the candying process, then uses them as a garnish. Crunchy and sweet, these little rings of fire accompany the carne asada taco, along with chunks of chipotle BBQ, Mexican crema and caramelized onions.
Lobster & black truffle tacoWho needs a lobster roll when you can enjoy a rich lobster taco, topped with mango habanero salsa and black truffle, then drizzled with truffle oil? I find myself currently craving this one, though I’ve never even been a big lobster fan—it’s that outrageous.
Continuing on the dare to be different theme, there’s a blackened tuna taco with wakame (seaweed) salad, served with Asian pear pico de gallo and wasabi aioli. And a crispy buttermilk fried chicken taco with, of all things, bacon-sauteed kale and maple-peppercorn aioli.
(l-r) tres tacos: carne asada, lobster & black truffle, blackened tunaFor the more traditional, yet still tasty, there’s the taco al pastor—pork tenderloin and caramelized pineapple, topped with mango habanero salsa and drizzled Mexican crema.
Each of these flavor combinations works beautifully together, in ways you may have never considered. It’s unlikely you’d find tacos like these elsewhere, but hard to imagine any other place could pull them off quite so brilliantly. I certainly can’t think of one, anyway.
Churros, glorious churros!While there are always new and interesting seasonal additions to the dessert menu, my absolute all-time favorite, don’t-miss thing would be the churros. Definitely save room for these little deep-fried bites of deliciousness coated in cinnamon sugar, served in a folded brown paper bag alongside vanilla ice cream with two dipping sauces: dulce de leche and chocolate. It’s a sweet ending to an all-around savory experience at Sayulita.
Sayulita is located at 856 Main Street (Route 17) in South Glastonbury, CT.