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Mystic's Taquerio brings a fresh take to Mexican street food

This review is going to be pleasantly simple to write.

We like pretty much everything at Taquerio in Mystic. The food, the service, the atmosphere.

The End.

Kidding about "the end." But seriously, I can comprehensively endorse the Taquerio menu because it's concise and I've pretty much tried everything they have to offer over three recent visits.

Located in a former gas station across from the roundabout on the Stonington side of the bridge, Taquerio presents small plate, authentic and also visionary spins on Mexican street tacos — with a few appetizers and desserts and a clever beer/wine/cocktails menu to best optimize your experience. Inside the building where Mac or Roy once changed the oil on your Beamer, it's now a hip, brightly colored, minimalist/warehouse design that would work as an art gallery. There's a backwards-L floorplan with the dining room proper extending toward the rear on the right side. The base of the L is the entrance foyer and a bar area, complete with a big screen television. Lots of tropical colors.

Perhaps more importantly, at least in this time of plague uncertainty, is the large outdoor patio with wide-spaced tables, a large heater for those who might have to wait for a table or want to congregate in round-the-campfire fashion. Also, street-side, there's a long, banquet-style table under an expanded overhead covering that originally protected customers from the elements while they pumped gas.

Customers approach from the parking lot into the outdoor patio and are greeted at a host/hostess station that looks like a shiny automobile grill. After being seated, you then have the option of ordering via Smartphone app or the old-school, "Can I take your order?" human server. Or a combination of the two. On each visit, our human server — different each time — was polite, amusing and patient with the tendencies of the Old and Stupid to not fully grasp the intricacies of online ordering. The only glitch at all was when an order of nachos somehow didn't get processed. I suspect the fault was mine but, whatever, the item was cheerfully removed from our bill.

Tacos, about the size of the circumference of a softball, are available in "Traditional" and "Anything But Traditional" varieties. The former items are served on corn tortillas; the latter include recipes calling for flour or crispy hard-shell tortillas. Across the board, there are barbecued pork and beef choices, pulled chicken and Buffalo chicken, fried plantain, grilled swordfish and fried cod, fried avocado, fried oyster and even a Gringo with ground beef.

Each of these are distinctive and cleverly seasoned or marinated; adding to the magic is how the respective tacos are conceptualized. The pork shoulder on the Al Pastor, for example, has been marinated with pineapple and Guajillo peppers, drizzled with Guajillo salsa and then topped with cilantro and finely chopped white onion. The fried plantain — something my wife Eileen has ordered on each visit — is worthy of another illustration of creative ingredient pairings by virtue of the toothsome fruit, a rich black bean puree, pickled red onions, green chili ailioi and cilantro.

Extrapolate this vision across the 11 tacos ($4 or $5) and you can see what the Taquerio folks are up to. Again, these are small tacos, and the idea is that you SHOULD have three or four and enjoy the subtle interplay. The construction of each taco is also such that you're not overpowered by bulk or any one element; everything works together and hopefully leaves you wanting (and ordering) more.

I truly have tried all of them except the Gringo, which is sort of a ground beef/Taco Bell-like construct (although I suspect it's far tastier). My favorites? Love the Barbacoa (braised beef, salsa rojo, white onion and cilantro). The beef has a smokey, dusky flavor that recalls great smokehouses from my Texas past. The red sauce provides a sharp highlight. The Oyster Po-Boy places two delicately fried and properly briny bivalve mollusks with the requisite Louisiana "dressing" components of pickle, shredded lettuce and a Creole remoulade on a flour tortilla. Fantastic!

The "Other Items" section is positioned at the bottom of the menu, which is only slightly odd when I considered the choices therein — a taco bowl salad ($15), nachos, chips & salsa and chips & guacamole — appetizer fare. One of our party ordered the triumphant salad as an entree. It consists of crisp iceberg lettuce, black beans, pepitas, Chihuahua cheese, pico de gallo, picled onions, guacamole and sour cream, and from the bountiful list of available add-ons chosed chunks of fried cod.

The guac & chips appetizer is a must-try. Chunks of delightful avocado are blended with pepper and piquant spices into a semi-smooth dish with plenty of hot, sturdy chips for support.

Also worth noting: The margaritas ($10) are absolutely crafted to order with fresh ingredients and that perfect blend of sweet and sour.

I've saved somethng special for the finale. For dessert, in addition to the "ice cream of the week," the Taquerio offers churros at $4 a platter. Two deep fried planks of dough with a crisp exterior of cinnamon and sugar, they're set adrift on a warm tide of rich caramel sauce. Stunningly — almost frighteningly — wonderful. I wish the smartphone app would just continually order the churros, in the fashion of an SOS from some boat lost at sea.

The Taquerio formula — a limited but clever and delicious menu, a casually fashionable spot just off the main drag in Mystic, an efficient staff that genuinely seems to enjoy goint fo work — is triumphant.

Taquerio

Taquerio

30 Broadway Ave., Mystic

(860) 245-4420, www.taquerio-mystic.com

Cuisine: Hip, creative take on Mexican street tacos plus a bit more

Atmophere: Great patio and sleek modern indoor bar/dining room on the site of an old service station

Service: Pleasant crew happy to negotiate the nuances of in-person service as well as ordering via smartphone

Prices: Basically small plate dining with items ranging from $4-$15; it can add up.

Handicap access: All one level with plenty of space

Reservations: Typically, no, though there might be a small wait

Credit cards: Yes

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