Last week, , Tacuba and Swill, two new restaurants opened by Arturo and Suzette Franco-Camacho. The pair previously ran Roomba and Bespoke in New Haven, and in 2010, , The Suburban.
Early on, after their move to Branford, they announced plans for a taco bar and a wine bar, and many fans of the Franco-Camachos' previous restaurants (and their Tijuana Taco Carts in New Haven) have been eagerly awaiting the opening. The process of getting the two new places up and running hit a few snags – an antipicated May 5 opening was delayed, and the pair have put the Suburban on a "working vacation" to focus on Tacuba and Swill – but in this reviewer's opinion, the wait was worth it.
My companions and I went to Tacuba for an early dinner on Saturday and were among several families with young children present, something I hadn't expected. "We want families," Suzette Franco-Camacho told me. "That is why we designed the menu both in price and product." While there were no high-chairs yet (those are coming soon), the menu was indeed kid-friendly: my daughter particularly like the yucca fries, which are similarly shaped to french fries but have a somewhat sweeter taste and more pleasant texture.
The atmosphere is a combination of industrial and rural, with a tip of the hat to Mexican Catholicism. Candles dedicated to the saints appear along the walls, and the back bar is decorated with crosses. Arturo Franco-Camacho, who grew up in Tijuana, was surrounded by faith and religion – and the iconography that appears in Tacuba – during his childhood, and the decor of Tecuba evokes that feeling. The candles are "intended to bless the space with good luck, love, and prosperity," explained Suzette. "It is a way of paying respect to the culture."
Also on the wall, Mexican-made films are projected for patrons to watch while they eat; most are pre-1965 classics, but the Franco-Camachos are considering showing Mexican children's movies on weekends.
The menu itself also pays plenty of respect to Arturo's childhood home, where his mother ran a taqueria, as all of the menu items come out of that tradition and contain authentic ingredients. The tacos come in soft corn tortillas, with the same flavor of the tortillas my mother taught me to make when I was growing up, but with a far better texture than I've ever been able to manage. The ingredients in the tacos were equally tasty, from the crisp tempura battered mahi-mahi, the tender pork in the "al pastor," and the rich carne asada steak.
The traditional tortas (Mexican grilled sandwiches) contained more complex flavor combinations, from the sweet beans to the sour-and-spicy pickled jalapenos. The ceviche Yucantan – a cold dish served in a glass with crackers and chips – was delightfully citrusy; ceviche is a traditional Latin American dish that contains raw fish prepared in lime juice to "cook" it. The lobster arepa's creamy topping blended well with the spongy, sweet corn bread beneath it, and the elotes – a corn of cob on a stick, as they're sold as street food in Mexico – were an excellent mix of sweet and cheesy. Each dish is brought out as it is prepared, as in a Spanish tapas bar, which makes for excellent sharing among friends.
The drink menu includes little that is non-alcoholic, but the choices include imported soda (both fruit sodas and Mexican Coke, which is different from its American counterpart) and homemade fruit waters. Tequilas, beer, wine, sangria, vodka, gin, pisco, and margaritas make up the rest of the fairly diverse drink menu.
The rich chocolate cake (which contains nuts) and the tres leches (a banana cake) were a delicious way to end our meal.
Both Tacuba and Swill are still in transition, and the official hours are still being determined. Swill is currently opening at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Tacuba is opening at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Both will offer food until 9:30 p.m. during the week, and later on the weekends, as need demands. Lunch hours are planned for both locations, and the full take out menu for Tacuba will be available at dinners this week. The latest news on hours will be available via the Tacuba facebook page until the official website launches later this week.
Verdict: Of all of the foods we tried on the menu, I would order any of them again. As the menu is continuing to expand, there is definitely a need to return to Tacuba in upcoming weeks – and, given the quality of the food, try out the apetizers at neighboring Swill.