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A systematic deep dive into tacos in Norwalk/Stamford

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I've done some pretty deep excursions over the past few years to find the best empanada in Westchester, and the best tacos in White Plains and the best mexican food in both New Rochelle and Port Chester. But I realized recently I've kind of neglected my home town of Stamford (and Norwalk by close approximation). It's not that I haven't tried nearly every taco to be had in the two towns, but I've done it over a period of a few years and without the focus of a good side by side comparison. So... I think it's time to do a systematic breakdown of tacos in this area.

First, I need to start with a full list of my possibilities - both (good and bad). I need your help editing this list. And, of course, all recommendations and experiences are appreciated. As always, I'll report back the findings here. Like my empanada excursion, this will probably take me a while. But again, I've got to take one for the team here. :)

The full list (please add to it). I've put question marks next to ones I just found by peeking into google maps. Can you verify if they are legit?

Stamford:
Casa Villa
El Charrito
Ole Mole
The Maya Restaurant
Los Girasoles
Tacos Guadalajara
Taco Bell (just kidding)

Norwalk:
Los Portales
El Aculpulco
Tacos Mexico
Los Cabos
El Mexicano
Mi Ranchito's Tacos?
Casa Maya?

I'm already hungry....

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  1. I will eagerly await the results - though I feel El Charrito will be tough to beat. Off the top of my head, there's also MaryAnn's in Stamford (not that I expect it to rank high, but you're looking for a complete list), Rio in Norwalk, and Sierra Grill (one in Stamford and one in Norwalk).

    1 Reply
    1. re: gillyweed

      That's right. Good catch on Mary Ann's and Rios. I figure I'll stick to just one sierra grill (stamford) since I presume (perhaps inaccurately) that they'll be the same?

    2. in order to appreciate the good, you should also try the crap. Maybe add Tequila Mockingbird in New Canaan as the bottom of the tequila bottle.

      16 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        Tequila Mockingbird. Wow. You gotta at least give them credit for a creative name. How's the food? Doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement from you. :)

        1. re: adamclyde

          inedible

          1. re: jfood

            Adam, if authenticity is part of the criteria I doubt you can include ole mole. It's barely above taco bell imo...no?

            1. re: Scotty100

              I would say that characterization is completely inaccurate and unfair. While is may not be true adamclyde, south-of the-border mexican, it is reasonable authentic, and frankly, to characterize it as "barely above Taco Bell "seems to indicate you have never set foot in there.

              1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

                Unfortunately, I have eaten in both the Stamford and Darien locations, and while Ole Mole may satisfy your idea of mexican food my experiences in both locations sadly did not satisfy mine. And I'm being kind with the taco bell comment. With such great authentic options dotted around Port Chester and FFD county there is no need to visit Ole Mole unless all you are after is a cheap margarita-fueled suburbanized parody of "mexican cuisine".

                I'm surprised it's on AC's list.

                1. re: Scotty100

                  Liusten, I've spent quite a bit of time in Mexico. And I never said Ole Mole is the real deal...it is clearly north American mexican. But a comparison to Taco Bell is no where near being kind. You cannot compare a reasonably well prepared sit down meal, however loosely based on "real mexican", to fast food gruel. Period, end of story. Unless you are simply out to be controversial for controversies sake.

                  1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

                    i have to agree - I actually really like ole mole - we do take out from there at least twice a month. I have never spent time in mexico and maybe it's not authentic but it is still good. I must say I'm not that fond of the tacos but i like all the quesdillas, most of the burritos and many of the apps. don't know if locations vary but we go to southport (since fairfield closed).

                    1. re: foleyd7

                      That last reply came from foleyd7 of the Mrs variety.... this one comes from the Mr side.
                      First let me say that the word "authentic" is thrown around WAY too much related to food, and especially related to Mexican food. Visiting Mexico and eating at a few roadside stands and/or restaurants does not qualify for knowledge of authenticity. To me, understanding what "authentic" is (whether it be Mexican, Italian, whatever) takes a prolonged visit to a place and/or having lived there. I visited Italy a long time ago and stayed with a family for a month... and I ate with that family every day without ever going to a restaurant for dinner... and I still don't know I'm qualified to weigh in on Italian authenticity.
                      On to Ole Mole: Is it authentic? I'm not sure. Is it good. Yes, of that I am sure. Speaking for the Southport location, they use very fresh, quality ingredients and prepare it in a very simple, clean way. Some dishes clearly aren't traditional (like their smoked mozzerella, corn, and pepper quesadilla) but they are damn good nonetheless.
                      One of the best things I think Ole Mole does compared to many Mexican places is that they don't bury their dishes in salsas and sauces and pureed beans (ie: they don't serve "mush" in a wrap). Try Ole Mole's carne asada buritto. The grilled flank steak within is cooked with a perfect char and flavor. The sauce? On the side. Is sauce on the side authentic or traditional? I'm not sure, but it helps keep the core ingredients at their pure best without getting soggy - - - especially when you go for takeout as we always do.
                      In summary, ignore Scotty100's completely misplaced comparison to Taco Bell and just try it yourself. It deserves a place on your quest and I look forward to reading your reviews and comparisons. Have fun!!

                      1. re: foleyd7

                        I haven't been to Ole Mole in a couple years, but I have to jump on the "whoa that's a little harsh" bandwagon.

                        Sure it's not "authentic" mexican food, but I always thought it was fresh and tasty food.

                        -----
                        Ole Mole
                        3381 Post Rd, Southport, CT 06890

                      2. re: ChefBoyAreMe

                        Hey Scotty/ChefBoyAreMe,

                        I tried to put pretty much everything on the list. I've been to almost all of these places so far, but figured I'll add them all again and give them a good side by side. So there are some places that I've tried and had bad experiences previously on this list. But They sell tacos in Stamford, so I'll give them a part of this comparison (btw, I've had worse experiences at some of the other places on my list too).

                        As for Ole Mole... I think their tacos are their worst item. There are a few things there that are OK... I continue to give them props for the only place I know of any where close by that actually has mole negro. But, there's no doubt that I've had MUCH better mexican food - even in Stamford. They are better than Mary Anns, that's for sure. But that't not saying much at all. If I'm going for tacos or something that's closer to the real deal, I go elsewhere.

                        But, thinking naively optimistic, I'm going to try them with the hope that they've had an epiphany within the last year and decided to up their taco game. Cuz I'll go there with fresh taste buds as part of the comparison. gotta be fair.

                        1. re: adamclyde

                          Adam,

                          I'm glad you are giving them a shot, and look forward to hearing your take.

                          In fact, I ate at OM/Darien last night, and had...tacos. Carnitias. While they lack the authenticity (loaded word) of the taco truck, I thought they were quite good. Nice soft corn tortillas, tender meat (though could have had more punch in the seasoning. A bit too much shredded lettuce (and I find it ironic, given that most American interpretations of ethnic cuisine tend to overload the protein, and play down the plant matter...exhibit 1 being American "Chinese". Real cojita cheese sprinkled on top, not melted velveeta-like goo you might find on a Taco Bell ground beef taco, for example. Chipotle sauce on the side.

                          Hey, we can't always sit in the park eating out of a styrofoam container....

                          Margaritas OK...not quite the way I make them (see profile), ..but places that use fresh squeezed lime juice and the right ratio are few and far between.

                          CBAM

                          1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

                            my problem with OM is that they could be much better without much effort. Like... drop the lettuce and cheese altogether and keep with the tried and true cilantro + onions and keep it at that. But they have to go to that unnecessary gringo trick of throwing on lettuce on a taco. It's just weird.

                            As for carnitas... I wish they'd make them the real way. Not for the sake of vain "authentic purity" but because it works. Slow boiled in lard. That's what makes real carnitas so amazing. I actually haven't found any places (el charrito included) that makes great carnitas in FF County. Port Chester (los gemelos) is a better bet for carnitas. Or, best of all, el michoacano in New Rochelle.

                            1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

                              Now dammit ChefBoyAreMe I agree with you about the corn on the grill but now you're talkin' B.S. about my Taco Bell and I just won't stand for it! :-)
                              They don't use any "melted velveeta-like goo" on their tacos!
                              :-)

                    2. re: Scotty100

                      wait, taco bell is not authentic?

                      1. re: vinouspleasure

                        Yes it IS, vinouspleasure, don't you worry...they were just making a mean joke!

                        1. re: rainroosty

                          what a relief,my server told me the gorditos are just like the ones her mama makes. And when they wrap a hard shell taco in a soft shell taco...sublime.

              2. Don't forget Los Molcajetes in East Norwalk, its right across from Vet's park (over the bridge from SoNo). Yum

                2 Replies
                1. re: sfoss17

                  that's right. For some reason I thought they were on the list. Thanks for the reminder...

                  1. re: sfoss17

                    YES!!! Los Molcajetes is great....better quac than red lulu $ 4.00 as opposed to
                    $14.00

                  2. I petition we open the comparison to Senor Salsa's in Fairfield for 2 reasons:

                    -The tacos (all their food for that matter) are excellent
                    -They are opening a new location in Westport

                    'nuff said.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rifkind81

                      It's funny what different people like. We tried Salsa's in Fairfield several years ago and were not impressed at all. After always reading about them we tried again a few months ago and were equally disappointed. We thought their menu options, ingredients, and preparation were inferior to Ole Mole. I also hated their salsa "bar" where you serve yourself... .it was dirty and messy and looked completely unappetizing.

                    2. I just tried a taco in a tiny dive of a joint that doesn't even have a name (at least not that I could see). It's a yellow building that just says "Tacos, Burritos, Tortas". It's on Rte 123 in Norwalk across the street and down a bit from Brannman's paints. Another landmark would be Valencia Luncheria which is about 6 stores up the street (east I believe).

                      Very simple preparation: two soft tortillas one on top of the other, a healthy dose of your meat filling of choice (I opted for chorizo), diced onions and served with a lime wedge. $1.65 each. Delicious.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: 1CTHound

                        Great tip. Thanks for the heads up. So it's on the same side as Valencia?

                        1. re: adamclyde

                          yup. between the small news stand and the bank.

                          1. re: 1CTHound

                            OK, I tried as hard as I could to find this place yesterday. Either it's no longer there or it's an apparition that only appears during the winter solstice. I looked at every small and large store front from the gas station & KEW Photo on one side to the Bank at the other end (the stretch that includes The Lime, Galicia, and Valencia in the middle). Am I missing something or did it close?

                      2. Thanks, for this thread! When I drag Scargod (as if he needs encouragement) chowhounding to the wilds of Nj in my '67 VW camper we will put it to good use. We just finished home made miga tacos for breakfast!

                        1. Just tried Los Molcajetes in East Norwalk yesterday. Tried the Milanesa Torta, Carnitas Burrito, Chorizo and Pastor tacos, and a Carnitas torta. Overall pretty impressive. The stars were definately the tortillas. They had excellent texture and flavor, very soft and not too chewy. The flavors all around were great, but I would skip the tortas as they were outshined by the tacos and to a lesser extent the burrito. I may go back for breakfast tomorrow and let you know...

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: rifkind81

                            What makes the tortillas so good, I wonder? Just handled delicately or are they hand made?

                            1. re: adamclyde

                              Not sure if the tortillas are handmade...their taste and texture showcase their freshness though. I did not make it for breakfast today, but I may walk over for a taco later!

                              1. re: rifkind81

                                Sorry to throw in Bridgeport but I went to El Azteca for the first time yesterday after many drive-bys. I'd encourage people to check it out. It's the only place in the area I've been that make their own fresh chips and piping hot corn tortillas with the little old ladies in the back pounding them by hand. That alone with the fresh margarita had me at hello.

                                1. re: rifkind81

                                  I think they are homemade