bartaco, tucked right on the water in Port Chester, NY, is cool. Not, “Hey, check me out, I’m wearing sunglasses inside, aren’t I cool?”, cool, but effortlessly cool. Like Dean Martin mixed with George Clooney mixed with Jeff Spiccoli. The large wicker basket light fixtures and chicken wire above the bar don’t feel forced casual, just naturally laid back and fully accomplishing the goals set out for them.
Having gone in for lunch we reveled in the mid-day light pouring in through the many large windows. It also allowed us to take notice of the fact that bartaco doesn’t just accommodate children, it is downright kid friendly! There was not one, but two long tables that were the perfect height for little ones.
On top of that, they have a fun dedicated kids menu with enough options that even finicky kids will be able to find something delicious at reasonable enough prices that if your discerning child decides not to eat what he ordered (as mine so often does) you won’t feel like you’ve wasted much.
An appetizer of guacamole, while slightly too acidic, was made more interesting by the compliment of whole fried tortillas instead of plain old chips. It’s a small difference, but isn’t it the small details that elevate an establishment?
A trio of sauces jazzed up the guac, as well as all subsequent dishes beautifully. There was a mild salsa verde, a medium red pepper sauce and a spicy habanero which, while not killer hot, certainly had me beading with sweat as I ate. Appetizing little detail that one, huh?
Rice bowls, beef in FoodieKids’ case, was mild enough not to offend a child’s palate, but flavorful enough that I was glad they didn’t finish theirs so that I could. Well braised, the meat was tender and deeply satisfying.
The rice was not a sticky, glutenous afterthought, but rather well prepared with each grain its own separate pearl.
The corn is grilled in Mexican fashion with lovely charring in numerous spots. This took FoodieKids by surprise, but the smoky flavor beautifully enhanced the sweetness of the corn.
FoodieWife and I decided upon an assortment of tacos. bartaco offers an amazingly creative variety of tacos, not merely beef and chicken. Baha fish tacos contained well fried, crispy chunks of plump fish tucked into a house-made soft tortilla with chopped onions and a refreshing slaw. Counter-intuitive Thai shrimp tacos were sweet, interesting and a different flavor profile, accomplished no less successfully. A vegetarian taco consisted of portobello and queso fresco. And then we got to my real loves. Tender, fatty slices of pork belly were offset by pickled onions and, wrapped as they were, seemed like a gift from someone who knows me well. If that weren’t far enough up my alley, stewed tripe tacos, in a fragrant tomato sauce were perfection in both flavor and texture. bartaco amazed in both its authenticity and originality.
Even side dishes were well thought out and executed. A chipotle slaw was crisp and sweet, with just enough heat to keep you on your toes. Pickled carrots, onions and jalapenos were vinegary and terrific, the pickling process taming the heat just right.
A few final notes on bartaco……aside from being cool, from having great food, the staff was very friendly and accommodating. In these days where an ever growing number of people are developing gluten issues, with the exception of two items the entire menu at bartaco is gluten-free. Lastly, remember earlier when I said the elevation of a restaurant from good to great usually lies in the details? Let us consider for a moment how many margaritas a Mexican restaurant must serve. Every one of them (and I had a few) contained fresh squeezed lime juice. I can only imagine that the staff doesn’t exactly fight over that particular duty, but it is done. The result, by the way, is one of the best margaritas I’ve had.