Enjoy a fiesta of flavor at Papi’s Taqueria
If the takeout wait time on Cinco de Mayo is any indicator, Papi’s Taqueria in Old Lyme has acquired a dedicated fan base in its short tenure in the Old Lyme Shopping Center.
ASAP wait time on that day? Seventy-five to 90 minutes. The wait time on two recent days that are not popular celebration days? Twenty minutes tops. This is the beauty of online order-ahead takeout options, which Papi’s offers right from its website. Naturally, all are welcome to wander in and place an order and wait or grab one of the few small tables for dining in — which a handful did on a recent visit.
During my first trip, I was a few minutes ahead of my pickup time and this is a good thing, because otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the time to peruse the dessert case. Sweets aren’t listed online, and that day I went home with an impromptu piece of chocolate flan ($4.50), because: chocolate flan. If you’ve got a sweet tooth and enjoy treats like tres leches cake, chocolate lava cake and rice pudding, take note and save room. As for the chocolate flan: Scrumptious. Its texture was similar to correctly prepared gingerbread but with a rich chocolate flavor. In short, it was moist, dense and delicious.
Tempted as I was to dig into dessert before dinner, I employed some restraint and instead sampled two varieties of street tacos: one steak, one chicken ($3.70 each; other varieties available). Soft-flour and hard shell tacos are also available, but I love the toothiness of soft corn tortillas. They’re great supports for filling and add a refreshing dash of corn flavor. Papi’s hit all the right notes for texture and flavor, and the steak filling edged out the chicken by just a bit, but both were quite good. We enjoyed the tenderness of the steak and whatever seasoning or maybe marinade that amped up the flavor. The dash of cilantro on both made everything even better.
Between (quite filling) tacos, an order of Chili Con Queso ($8.95) kept us well occupied. The menu description, “Hatch chile cheese dip topped with chorizo, side of homemade corn tortilla chips,” was all it took for me to pair this with dinner. Hatch chiles are rare ingredients ‘round these parts, and we pounce when we see them. As big fans, we could’ve dealt with a stronger dash of the green chiles, because their vegetal brightness would have staved off the saltiness of the cheesy dip a bit. However, there was plenty else to make us happy: The serving size was generous, the chips thick and tasty (and abundant), and we discovered the rich and flavorful queso base is a great dipping sauce for … everything else we ordered. (OK, maybe not the flan.)
Another Mexican-food item we always order when available is elotes, or street corn, often served on the cob. Papi’s features elotes on the Starters list ($7) and here it’s not served on the cob, a serving method we’ve seen before. We prefer elotes on the cob, but we suspect since good corn won’t be an option here for a few months, Papi’s opted for the loose version, which they toss with poblano peppers, queso fresco and cilantro. Somehow, that great mix underwhelmed us and we craved a little more salty-cheesy-peppery flavor, but we liked them well enough to give them another try come corn season.
There were no complaints or quibbling when it came to the Fiesta Nachos we ordered another night. The baseline order ($11.75) comes with beans (black or refried), cheese, and sides of sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo. Or add grilled chicken, steak, ground beef or carnitas for another $3. We added carnitas to our order and feasted upon them like rabid dingos (in a good way), because beyond the pleasantly seasoned shredded pork (sweeter than some carnitas we tried), the beans and cheese were flavorful and expertly layered throughout the large pile of tortilla chips. I absolutely love refried beans, and when they’re done right, they’re heavenly, with a light smokiness and savory flavor. Papi’s beans satisfied on all levels, and we will order the side of rice and beans ($5.25) with whatever we order going forward.
Thanks to Papi’s, I’ve discovered yet another Mexican dish to love, and that is sopes, which the menu describes as hand-formed corn tortillas topped with beans, lettuce, cheese and sour cream (three for $10.95; add a meat for $2). As noted, fresh corn tortillas are tasty and delicious, therefore a small cake made out of the same material is even better, especially when they are lightly grilled. I added grilled chicken — tender and tasty on its own — which merged nicely with the schmear of black beans on the tortilla and the abundant chopped lettuce and cheese (a queso blanco). You’ve got loads of different textures and a lovely mix of savory flavors.
Similar to sopes are the tostadas, which feature the same toppings but on a crispy corn tortilla with your choice of added tinga chicken or all veggies (two for $11.50 and $9.50, respectively). We tried the tinga chicken — that is shredded chicken in a tomato-chipotle sauce — and found the entire package to be very enjoyable; refreshing to the palate; and something we’d order again.
It looks like several other folks have their own order-again lists, and we’re glad to see it. Papi’s adds a welcome new food option in Old Lyme that’s authentic, affordable, and lots of fun to eat. That’s worth a celebration any day of the week.
19 Halls Road, Old Lyme (Old Lyme Shopping Plaza)
Cuisine: Mexican; specifically (per the website) “the authentic flavors and deep culinary traditions from the mountains of Central Mexico.”
Atmosphere: Small cafe decked in bright colors and homey decor. Most action seems to take place from the takeout counter, but a few small tables inside and a few on the sidewalk offer a handful of dine-in opportunities.
Service: Friendly and efficient
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 3-8 p.m.
Prices: Reasonable for the quantity and quality. The highest price on the menu is $15, which will cover a Burrito Bowl with added meat or a Quesadilla with meat. Burritos and tortas average around $12.
Credit cards: Accepted
Handicapped access: No steps or curbs at entry and ample parking right out front. Inside, it’s close quarters.