Tacos, tequila and good times roll at this casual, beachy Port Chester restaurant
Photographs by Bob Capazzo
A recent Saturday night at Bartaco was like the first warm spring weekend of the season at Tod’s Point—everyone and his brother had come out of the woodwork to get a taste of the beach. Knowing that the new, hip, watering hole from the Barcelona Group might be busy, we arrived early, at 6:30, but even then the place was packed. No worries. At this laidback taqueria, the large, rectangular bar at the center of the restaurant is a comfortable perch for waiting and people watching. So once we were handed a round of Sol and fresh margaritas (we watched the bartender press the limes right in front of us), we were happy to hang out for half an hour until a table was ready. Tequila aficionados will appreciate that there are more than 25 varieties served; the lively cocktail list includes drinks such as the Port Chester Reviver, with gin, cucumber, mint, mango and lime. For those who prefer non-alcoholic libations, Bartaco imports that nectar of the gods, Mexican Coca-Cola, and also pours handpressed sodas.
While the creative drinks and Mexican street food are the main draw here, the beach-inspired décor is an attraction too. Part Nantucket, part La Jolla, the setting transports you to sunnier locales, if only for the evening. The breezy space is designed in shades of blue and white, with old painted clapboard walls and high-ceilinged rooms punctuated by basket-weave lights hanging from ropes, ceiling fans and fig trees. Built-in seating is casually accessorized with navy and gray striped throw pillows. Outside, right along the Byram River, there’s a large deck with several fire pits that will, no doubt, be hopping this summer.
A hostess seated us near the bar at a low table, which was fun for being part of the action, but next time I might opt for one of the booths or tables in the side dining room because the taller people in our party were lacking legroom.
Whether you stop in for lunch or dinner, the atmosphere is always lively.
The dining here is seriously relaxed, with a short menu that encourages you to sample an array of small bites. You pencil in your order on a menu card, club snack-bar style. Tacos come out piled onto metal trays and served with a trio of salsas, salsa verde with jalapeno and cucumber, chipotle-tomato, and hot papaya-habanero. Though we also enjoyed the tamales (especially the spicy pork), Bartaco is all about the tacos: Baja fish, red snapper, pork chili verde, beef al carbon, chorizo, chicken, veal cheek, tongue, and portobello with queso fresco. Among the six of us, we tried every variety, and all were good, though our favorites were the beef and the red snapper. After failing to heed the waiter’s warning and pouring a liberal dose of habanero salsa on one of my tacos, my lips were burning, but we generally loved the salsas too.
For a side, be sure to try the grilled corn with lime, cayenne, and cotija cheese. It’s messy but has an intense, smoky flavor. Another must-pencil-in item is the guacamole, which tastes superfresh and is served with large, crispy whole tortillas. (We went back for a second order.) We happily devoured a bartaco chopped salad too, which is loaded with cubes of fresh avocado. One dish that didn’t grab me was the shrimp ceviche, which was a bit bland. And the “small” cheese quesadilla is tiny, probably best to order if you’re out with your kids.
By the time we were done eating, the restaurant was mobbed and the staff was slow to clear our trays. Still, soon enough, we were digging into churros for dessert. These fried, donut-like “postres” coated with cinnamon sugar are designed for dipping into the semisweet chocolate sauce, but they also pair nicely with the gelatos. One order is a generous portion of three churros—more than enough for sharing. We were fans of the gelato too, and if you really want to get a taste for the tropical, go with the coconut. It’s flecked with pieces of coconut and its sweetness reminds me of drinking a piña colada. And like so much of the food and drink at Bartaco, that flavor brings you back to the beach.
1 Willett Avenue
Port Chester, NY 10573
Open seven days a week; 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.