Parked in Bloomfield: Taqueria Autentica

BY  |  Wednesday, Sep 14, 2011 3:43pm  |  COMMENTS (19)

As other restaurants pack up and leave Baristaville, Taqueria Autentica, the former food truck and familiar sight at the Montclair Farmers’ Market, has gone up a gear by following in the tire tracks of some peers and finding itself a parking spot — on Broad St in Bloomfield.

Located near the junction of Watchung Ave and Broad St (and right opposite Boonsong Thai), the cosy restaurant is boldly painted a deep shade of teal. Copper-wrapped table tops, wooden chairs, unfinished-wood wainscotting, cheerful film posters and checkered black and white floor tiles round off a casual look at the restaurant, where one steps up and orders (and later pays) at the counter.

Taqueria Autentica, which in its infancy in mid-2009 was a taco stand at Montclair Farmers’ Market, lives up to its name – it serves up a quick and mean taco. It strikes one as the perfect place for a harried parent to run their kids to, for a speedy, no-hassles meal. Indeed, a corner of the restaurant is devoted to an entertainment corner for little kids; it’s stocked with an easel, crayons, games, and a magnetic strip on which they can later display their handiwork.

The restaurant is dedicated to fresh preparation, fresh ingredients and simplicity, which is reflected in its perfectly sized menu with a good variety of items.

Just as well I showed up with a friend and four test subjects in tow, age 8 to 11. The restaurant was pretty busy for a Tuesday night, especially since there’s no sign outside yet announcing its presence.

(If you’re famished, a word of warning: Don’t sit down and get lost in conversation, especially if you miss the sign that says you should order your food up front, as you would in a fast-food joint.)

Taqueria Autentica’s guacomole was chunky and fresh, with generous squeezes of lime. The chips were fresh from the frying pan, and were served with salsa verde and a red salsa, the former of which had a pleasant hint of heat.

The kids enjoyed their chicken or skirt-steak (carne asada) tacos so much, they ordered another each. The cumin-scented chicken and bite-size chunks of smoky beef were both tender, moist, and  beautifully seasoned.

One child decided to be adventurous and ordered the Enchilada de Pollo – homemade corn tortillas baked with cheese, chicken and salsa. Alas, this was too spicy for him, but went down well with the adults. To its credit, the restaurant offered to do a non-spicy version of this for said child, who polished off his plate with no trouble.

Rounding off the meal, we were told there would be no bunuelos that day (fried dough with a dip), so the kids had single-serve chocolate milk puddings. These were knockouts, rich, silky and dark, flavored with chili and vanilla and topped with slivered almonds. Perhaps they were too tasty. Two of our test subjects age below 11 were unable to sleep that night (the after-effects of a robust dose of caffeine in the chocolate perhaps?), but I highly recommend the pud for all grownups.

Verdict: Tasty food, family-friendly restaurant. Do visit.

Here are excerpts of a Baristanet interview with Taqueria Autentica owner, Michael Natiello, a former attorney who lives in Bloomfield with his wife, also a lawyer, and 10-year-old daughter:

How long has your restaurant been open?

We opened two weeks ago.

What’s the biggest challenge of owning a restaurant, as opposed to a food truck?

The biggest challenge is that you have to do more work for each order – physically travel to where the person is to give them their meal, clean up after they leave, arrange for silverware and drinking containers, etc. With a truck, you simply make the food and hand it to the customer, who takes it from you when their name is called.

What helped you decide to give up on the truck?

When I realized that I had a substantial following from the Montclair Farmers Market, and I had developed my food sufficiently to justify a restaurant, the time was right to take it to the next level.

What’s your culinary background?

I am not trained in cooking. But I lived in San Francisco for 6 years and there are tons of great Mexican restaurants there, and not that many good ones in New Jersey. I also knew that I could faithfully reproduce the simplest Mexican food by using quality ingredients – especially quality meat – and sticking to basic things, like cilantro, lime, jalapeno, white onion, cumin, etc.

What’s the service concept at your new restaurant?

The restaurant version of Taqueria Autentica is exactly the same concept as the farm stand or the truck – look at the menu, order, pay, wait for your food, enjoy, leave. People wonder about the lack of waiters but it actually simplifies things, hopefully speeds things up, and may reflect more value where tipping is not as much of an issue.

What are the two top items you’d recommend off your menu?

I recommend the torta, a Mexican sandwich with chicken, pork, or vegetarian filling, which is kind of a flavor party, and the chilaquiles with egg – not something you would come across every day.

Taqueria Autentica

1035 Broad St

Bloomfield, NJ 07003

 

19 Comments

  1. POSTED BY Annette Batson  |  September 14, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

    Michael’s concept for food and restaurant sound like a great formula. I’d have to agree, also being from San Francisco and used to excellent Mexican food, that NJ just doesn’t get it. I’m happy to hear Michael say ” using quality ingredients – especially quality meat – and sticking to basic things, like cilantro, lime, jalapeno, white onion, cumin, etc.” That, in a nutshell is essential to all good Mexican food. Can’t understand why other Mexican restaurants can’t get it right. PS Michael – don’t forget the chiles and chipotle!

  2. POSTED BY Gail  |  September 14, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

    Chilaquiles? In NJ? My favorite Mexican dish. Can’t wait to try it.

  3. POSTED BY threefour  |  September 16, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

    Based on my experience at the truck, I’ll pass. With kids around, including my 3-year old and I waiting for an order, the people talking in the truck were dropping F-bombs left and right. Not family friendly.

  4. POSTED BY batman jammies  |  September 17, 2011 @ 12:59 am

    Hey threefour dude. Everybody knows you’re a competitor. Get a life.

  5. POSTED BY Bernadette Baum  |  September 17, 2011 @ 10:28 am

    @threefour, sorry for your experience at the market, but glad to report the language at the restaurant was most ladylike. There were loads of kids there, and with the food so fresh and tasty, forgiveness may be the way to go ;)

  6. POSTED BY walleroo  |  September 18, 2011 @ 11:49 am

    I used to think that way, three four. Always worrying about my kids’ delicate, virgin ears. When they got older and started cursing like truck drivers, it came as such a relief.

  7. POSTED BY raxxx  |  September 21, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

    place is awesome! best tacos in the area by far – very fresh – reminded me of mexican experiences in LA (totally different than NJ mexi). my only complaints were that the torta was not available when we were there and we had to ask for water again after we had requested it.

  8. POSTED BY matango  |  September 24, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

    It really is the best Mexican food I’ve had around Montclair…which is not saying much at all. Small portions (that was a torta?), high prices (certainly not “autentica”), overly seasoned meats. It was still “okay” compared to most places in the immediate area (they didn’t glop on a bunch of cheese, for example).

    Folks, we live way too close to places like Union City, Patterson and Dover for this sort of thing to pass as authentic. Look on your GPS under “Mexican” whenever you are out, find a place you can’t pronounce, and go there for some amazing tacos.

  9. POSTED BY deadeye  |  September 24, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

    Ridiculously long wait, although not crowded. Small portions, although overall good quality. Kitchen appeared crowded with idlers while patron’s waited, and waited, and waited…Need to figure out that running a taco truck is different than a restaurant in a big way, otherwise this potentially successful newcomer will not survive it’s patron’s willingness to overlook the new opening foibles. Also, lack of an exhaust fan has to be a code violation. That said, I would give it another chance. Need to tighten up though and not skimp on the portions, otherwise forget it, too many people have Tinga on speed dial.

  10. POSTED BY deadeye  |  September 24, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

    Since when is San Francisco some sort of Mexican food Mecca?? Houston, San Antonio, Austin, sure.

  11. POSTED BY ricrac  |  September 24, 2011 @ 11:05 pm

    We tried to go last week end only to find out that they were closed, something about a catering gig and not enough staff to run the restaurant. Glad I called before making the drive.

  12. POSTED BY Right of Center  |  September 24, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

    I tried this place. The tacos were very good. The salsas especially good. That being said, these fellows have a lot to learn about running a restaurant. Long wait, service which can only be described as “chaotic”. The decor, if you can call it that, was shabby. I don’t need Rosa Mexicano for my local taco stand, but this place is depressing. I got a peak at the kitchen while waiting for take out, and it looked pretty messy, with a filthy floor.

    Like I said, the food was good, everything else was in pretty bad shape. I’ll definitely give them a try in a few months in the hope they’ve worked out the kinks.

  13. POSTED BY Karen Banda  |  September 25, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

    Glad for the real reviews here! Almost organized a party there based on the Barista “review”. Never mind!

  14. POSTED BY taqueriaautentica  |  September 26, 2011 @ 7:00 am

    First of all, we appreciate the feedback, and we would like to respond to some of the comments here. The exhaust system, which we learned soon after opening was inadequate, was replaced last week, and there is no longer any smoke in the kitchen or dining area. Regarding the service, we are working on operations and we understand that delivering food to customers in a timely manner is an extremely important part of the dining experience. Our biggest challenges with service – no surprise here – arise on Friday and Saturday nights, from 6:00 to 7:30. People who do not come during those times have experienced almost no wait times. We hope that those trying us for the first time will come during off-peak hours.

    Finally, last weekend we had catering jobs that had been booked for months, and we did not want to open the restaurant with inadequate staff, particularly with the problems that we have had meeting demand already. This weekend, despite a wedding on Friday and a party on Saturday, both catered by the truck, we were able to open the restaurant. There are currently no catering jobs that are booked and regular restaurant hours are in full swing. Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 – 9, Saturday 5:45 to 9:30, Sunday 10-4 (brunch menu). We would appreciate everyone’s patience while we work on operations – and if you had a bad experience the first time you tried us, please let us know on your return visit and ask for Michael and I will personally see that we have done everything we can to ensure your continued patronage.

  15. POSTED BY taqueriaautentica  |  September 26, 2011 @ 7:54 am

    And if my post didn’t make it clear, I apologize to anyone who had to wait and we hope you will give us another chance. Thank you.

  16. POSTED BY creedence  |  September 28, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

    Classy post Taqueria Autentica. Thanks for responding here to the feedback. I think people will generally understand that most new restaurants will have issues soon after opening, and if those issues are resolved, they’ll be forgotten quickly. It’s only when those issues linger do people really get turned off. Your place looks like a great addition to that stretch of Broad St., and I personally wish you the best there. I have had your tacos at the Farmer’s market and they are both authentic and delish. Regarding the poster who suggested going to Union City, Paterson, or Dover for “amazing tacos”, are you for real? I’ve got two young kids in Glen Ridge and want to go out for quick fresh authentic Mexican and I’m gonna get in the car and drive to Union City? Let me think about that one for a minute. Maybe there’ll be Lincoln Tunnel traffic and I can wait even longer. By the way, Union City is predominantly Cuban, so I’ not so sure you’ll find a great Mexican place there. Get real.

  17. POSTED BY curly  |  October 01, 2011 @ 8:18 am

    The torta with pulled pork is transporting!

  18. POSTED BY momhere  |  October 11, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

    I was so excited to try it, but what a dissapointment! As far as tacos are concerned, NOT authentic and way too expensive. Cumin is actually not as common in Authentic Mexican food as it is in Tex-Mex or Cali-Mex. Try achiote, epasote, oregano… Nice try, but the restaurant name is misleading. Try Taqueria in Jersey City instead. Unfortunately farther away, but makes up for in taste and truly authentic flavor. C-

  19. POSTED BY southsider  |  March 09, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

    My wife and I had a wonderful lunch there a couple of days ago. The place was not crowded, and service was quick and personal. We tried the chicken enchiladas, and a pork sandwich. Both were excellent. The sauce on the enchiladas was clearly freshly made, full of flavor, and with just the right amount of heat. The pork was nicely flavored too, and with a few pickled jalapenos mixed in, had a very satisfying kick. Well done. So much better than Senoritas, Tinga, or other fast food chains…

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I will really miss their store. It was always so easy and fun to find a fun gift there. Walking into their store made me feel like I was transported into a faraway happy place!

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