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.
1035 Broad St
Bloomfield, NJ 07003