Over the Fourth of July weekend, Nate and I took a 7 hour drive to Connecticut. Now I was under the impression that the drive would be hideously longer than that, but our destination was in Norwalk, CT, very close to New York City. In fact, from the beach in Norwalk, we could just see Long Island in the distance.
We went to the specific town of Norwalk because Nate lived there for 3 years post graduation from college. We spent a long weekend away planning to spend lots of time with his friends, hiking, enjoying the beach, trying out Nate’s favorite restaurants, and of course sampling some New England tacos.
And because we were so close to NYC (only a 50 min train ride), I was able to plan an impromptu trip to NYC on one of the days of the trip to see one of my best friends since middle school, Deepali. And yes, we got some tacos there as well! So sit back and get your napkin adjusted because I got two places from two different states to taco’ bout.
Taco stop #1 – EL SEGUNDO- Norwalk, CT
Now Nate has never been to El Segundo because it has only opened last August, but it has been highly recommended by his friends to get for great street food from around the world including amazing al pastor and shrimp tacos. Nate told me that the guys who started the Spread, also opened up El Segundo. Nate worked at The Spread for a little bit when he lived in Connecticut, and was there frequently, so he was positive that El Segundo would be awesome, especially since Chef Carlos can make some killer tacos.
I loved the place as soon as I walked in. Graffiti decor, trinkets hanging on the walls, welcoming staff and a variety of seating options. There were counter seats at the bar and over at the kitchen, more secluded tables against the wall or area next to the kitchen and then there was outdoor picnic tables and and outside bar (which really reminded me of a getaway vacation with the outdoor tiki like bar). Nate’s friend and old roommate, Juan, wanted to get us seats right in front of the kitchen where we could watch our tacos be handcrafted and prepared with love.
El Segundo has a very enticing menu with street foods from around the world. I ordered two of the al pastor tacos, elotes (grilled corn on the cob with lime aiolo, cotija cheese, and smoked chili powder), and Nate and I branched out from Mexico to Italy and split an arancini (ground beef and vegetable stuffed rice balls with mozzarella it was…large).
The elotes were served first. I liked the elote, but I liked Las Velas and Maderna Cocina in Pittsburgh better and my all time favorite elote is still at Let’s Taco Bout It in West Reading. Upon talking to Nate and Juan, we think that PA’s access to closer sweet corn could really help influence the taste a lot, along with the chili powder and lime being premixed. Also, Let’s Taco Bout It’s elotes are topped with sour cream AND cheese, instead of just cotija cheese.
However, the al pastor tacos here were off the charts. The spit carved marinated pork was topped with grilled pineapple, fresh cilantro, onion and arbol sauce on a double layer corn shell. After the pork is carved, it is then placed on the grill for a hot second. The key here is that the pork is not overcooked with dried, burnt ends. I could predominantly taste the pork and cilantro in each bite along some sweetness here and there from the pineapple with a crunch from the onions. The arbol sauce did not have heat as I would have expected, but was a nice mild addition to make the taco juicier. The taco was a little greasy from the fat, but the fats did not soak entirely throughout the corn shell. I sort of used the corn shell as a napkin and barrier from the pork fat and arbol sauce.
I paired the taco with a Downeast Aloha Friday craft cider. Downeast is located not too far north in Boston. It was had a very refreshing pineapple taste that complemented the al pastor tacos. Very very pleased with the tacos here. Nate and Juan both loved their al pastor tacos too (and the shrimp tacos-I will not try…yet).
Price: $3.50 per taco
Taco Stop #2 – MEXIQUE- New York, New York
After first meeting Deepali for drinks at a rooftop bar above Eataly in NYC’s Flatiron District, all three of us made our way to tacos and happy hour just a block away from Eataly. Nate and I discovered Mexique on our walk from Grand Central Station to Eataly. We were immediately drawn to the sign stating tacos, tequila, bourbon, and happy hour. (side note – Mexique also has a location in Midtown)
We all ordered a round of their house margarita on the rocks for only $5 before diving into the taco portion of the menu. There were plenty of tacos to pick from and they all could be ordered a la carte. Tacos included pulled pork, market fish, smoked brisket, wild rock shrimp, smoked chicken, avocado mushroom, egg, tuna cerviche, house cured duck and pork belly.
I ordered the smoked chicken and pulled pork. The smoked chicken taco had cut up cubes of chicken covered with arugula, slaw, creamy chipotle sauce,pico de gallo, and cotija cheese. This was definitely not my favorite chicken slaw taco. It was heavy on the chipotle sauce which overpowered the taco along with the arugula. Even with the amount of sauce, I could tell the chicken was a bit dry and sparingly placed on the corn shell. The corn shell was unique though as it was paper thin and extremely flexible. Although the shell was different, I still prefer the fluffier and airier corn shells.
The next taco I tried was the heritage Cheshire pulled pork with crispy tortilla strips, corn salsa, jack cheese, and a creamy chipotle. The pulled pork taco was a little bit better than the smoked chicken but had the same underlying issue of overpowering sauce and little meat. The marinade from the pulled pork did have a nice mix of sweet and spice that worked well with the pork, corn salsa, and cream. And I really liked the addition of the tortilla strips and fresh jack cheese on top.
Nate seemed to like the duck tacos. There was a little more meat on his, and he said that all the flavors just meshed very well together. He wished he ordered all duck tacos! Deepali liked her shrimp taco as well.
Overall, I am happy we got to take a break from the 90 degree day to sit down and eat tacos, but I think I would pass on this place during my next visit. I want to be swept away by a taco in NYC and it was not here. The search will continue on next visit.
But if I ever returned to Norwalk, CT, I will definitely return to El Segundo.
Price: ranging from $4.50-$6 per taco
What I would have done differently:
Conquered more street food. Nate and I were only visiting in the afternoon and evening with our main focus to meet up with Deepali and to see a show at the Comedy Cellar, so we did not want to spend too much time in one restaurant or bar (unless we were really feeling the place). However, with the temperature being almost 90 degrees and being drawn to the taco and happy hour sign at Mexique, we could not pass it up. The food and check took a very long time to receive so we did burn some time here. I wish we would have waited until we got to the West Village where we saw taco trucks and places to eat quick tacos which were more reasonably priced (the taco truck sold 2 tacos for $7).
But I did get a change to try the freshest mozzarella tomato basil panini at Eataly and a falafel wrap at Mamoun’s later on in the evening next to the Comedy Cellar. Both out of this world and made my mouth melt right off. I need to find a taco like that next time I am in NYC!