Nexcalli tacos

Tacos with a View

Today we’re revisiting a favorite from the archives. Below is an updated version of an article that appeared in one of Daily Nutmeg’s early editions, published on April 17, 2012. Enjoy!

There are 10 spots for 10 trucks on a recently paved strip of asphalt on Long Wharf Drive, to the left after you take exit 46 off I-95 northbound. They’re easy to miss, tucked between New Haven’s sorely under-enjoyed waterfront and the ever-busy I-95, but hop off the highway for a look at the water and there they are: a big handful of mobile kitchens a short distance down to the left, chock-full of south-of-the-border delights.

These are the Long Wharf taco trucks, as they’re known—a collection of movable mini-restaurants with names like “Ixtapa,” and the straightforward-as-it-can-be, “Mexican Food.” Aside from a Puerto Rican truck and the incongruous but nonetheless popular Sweeney’s Hot Dogs, most of the little kitchens are all about Mexican tacos. Filling options include steak, chicken, and even beef tongue and beef head, and the tacos run small and cheap: $1.50 on average. There are options of somewhat more expensive quesadillas or burritos wrapped around the same meats and a seemingly endless parade of empanadas, fried and roasted chicken, rice and beans and pico de gallo.

Give up any thoughts of fine-dining ambiance. This is a party in a parking lot, with a lovely view of the Sound. Mexican mariachi or salsa blares from truck speakers as people stand patiently in line at the various trucks, mulling over options. It’s a mix of students, construction workers, young couples, road-trippers. Some are regulars, you can tell, but everyone’s made to feel welcome. Besides the meat-filled delights, you can grab a Mexican ice—think sorbet—or, if you can find him weaving between trucks and cars, a sweet, golden crispy churro (a fried-dough pastry snack) from Nicolas Morales’ mini-cart.

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There’s a truck called Nexcalli Mexican Food. Black with bright yellow, green, red and white lettering, it’s on the quieter side of the party. On a Saturday, Nexcalli is staffed by a busy man in a black polo shirt with a matching logo, who simultaneously chops fresh-looking cuts of seasoned meat and slides them over to a sizzling grill while telling me his name: “Jose Corona. C-o-r-o-n-a. You know, like the beer!”

Corona arrived in the United States in 1994, and spent years working as a cook at Baja’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant in Orange, as well as Atticus Cafe on Chapel Street in New Haven. He’d wanted to open his own business for years, and eventually saved enough to buy a vehicle and equipment and strike out on his own. The Nexcalli Taco Truck was born in 2007. Corona says he’s pretty lucky—within a couple months, he had regular customers from around the New Haven area.

Nexcalli, loosely translated, means “sandwich” in his local dialect, Corona explains, and he’s stocked his menu with Tlaxcala staples. “Real Mexican tacos like the ones in Tlaxcala aren’t hard shelled and covered with cheese,” says Corona. Bright and fresh and topped with cilantro and onion, they’re lighter and smaller portioned than most of the typical Mexican-American fare available in Connecticut.

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The Al Postor—or pork loin—tacos are high on the list of most requested; Corona adds a touch of pineapple to the sauce, giving it just the perfect sweet-to-salt ratio. The cilantro is fresh and deep green, the onions crisp and white. Most popular on the menu is the Alambre: steak with Mexican sausage, sauteed with onions, a sort of Mexican prickly pear cactus leaf called Nopal and covered with melted cheese, avocado and jalapeño.

Corona seems proudest of his fresh, homemade salsas. The crowd favorite is a green sauce made from jalapeño, cilantro and avocado. It’s picante with a clean, fresh flavor. The red salsa, a chile arbol sauce with tomatoes, garlic and onions, is the milder choice.

Corona leans over and cheerfully explains these and other menu options to newbies like me. He’s most excited describing Tlaxcala fare and says while people are learning, he’s also tried to make his menu accessible. “I’m pairing real Mexican food with the Californian/San Diego food, like quesadillas. I want to have something that everyone can like,” he says. I ask if a restaurant was in his future, and he smiles, looking down shyly. “I’m thinking about it.”

Summer hours are long: around 11 in the morning to 8:30 at night, starting much earlier than that for cleaning and prepping ingredients and his homemade salsas. Corona’s on the truck most days of the week, and he likes it that way. “We’re busy here. And you get to meet a lot of people from different towns. It’s exciting,” he says. He enjoys asking new customers where they’re visiting from. He’s heard New York, New Jersey, even Massachusetts: one Boston couple shows up every Sunday for quesadillas.

Passerby John Salem, from Middletown, grabs a couple of made-to-order beef tacos from Corona’s truck after a trip to Ikea, which looms enormous and blue just across the interstate (providing a windfall for the taco team). He washes them down with a glass-bottled pineapple soda, and pronounces them tasty.

“I’d come again,” he says, walking back to his car.

Long Wharf Taco Trucks
Along Long Wharf Dr, off I-95 at exit 46 in New Haven
11am-8:30pm daily (depends on the truck)
More choices on weekends.

Written and photographed by Uma Ramiah.

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