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    Wednesday, September 27, 2023

    Taqueria Cinco is spicing up Westbrook

    Street tacos filled three ways: steak, black beans, and arabe pork. (Marisa Nadolny)
    Street corn (elote), served on a stick (Marisa Nadolny)

    Remember when certain political surrogates warned voters against “taco trucks on every corner”? At the time, you would’ve heard a resounding “Yes, please!” from my house. That sentiment remains, so we were thrilled to discover that Taqueria Cinco opened a storefront in nearby (to us) Westbrook.

    Mexican-food fans on the other side of the river are likely well acquainted with Taqueria Cinco’s Groton location on Long Hill Road. Somehow, I missed my cue to check out the Groton store and first heard of Taqueria Cinco from the mister, who became a regular when its roving food truck (well, a repurposed bus technically) started rolling up near his office in Madison.

    And now we’ve hit the trifecta with the Westbrook location, which, fittingly, opened in the same space where the Whole Enchilada used to be, in a little building that’s one half Subway, one half taqueria. How’s that for a regional snapshot? There’s even a Dunkin’ Donuts within steps of the Taqueria Cinco complex.

    Now, we sampled what looks like a silly amount of food down below, but the prices are quite reasonable, and many dishes are perfect for sharing (or for the next day’s breakfast).

    The tamales fall into that category. They’re enormous and a mere $3.99. One will feed two people easily, especially if it’s not the only thing on the menu. Most tamales I’ve encountered — and you don’t find them often around here — are on the smaller side and still quite filling. Masa is a dense corn dough, and in a tamale it’s paired with meats or veggies in various combos and steamed in corn husks. We ordered the pork tamales (just-veggie available, too) and it was delicious with and without the accompanying green sauce (probably tomatillo salsa). Perfect moisture plus hints of the savory pork and wholesome corn flavor, all in one package: Yum.

    Speaking of great packages, if you want to get a good sense of Taqueria Cinco’s menu overall, consider an order of tacos. You get three for $10.99, and while they look small, they are not wimpy. Tortillas are made out of masa, which, as we’ve learned, is very hearty. Bear that in mind before you go crazy and order a Taco Bell-inspired six-pack. From many, many options (including cactus!), we selected three different fillings, one per taco: Steak, arabe and black beans. We recommend them all. The steak was tender and flavorful; we found the black bean taco quite refreshing (thank you, cilantro!); and arabe-style pork was a delightful and delicious discovery. In brief: Tacos arabes developed within the kitchens of Middle Eastern immigrants to the Puebla region of Mexico. From their traditional dish of shawarma on pitas emerged a new preparation of grilled, cumin-seasoned pork, thinly sliced and wrapped into tortillas. Taqueria Cinco’s rendition does this dish’s heritage proud.

    On to something more familiar: quesadillas! If you’ve written off local quesadillas for fear of plain-Jane, kids-food variations thereof, don’t fret. Taqueria Cinco reminds us why quesadillas ($10.99) can be so terrific. All it takes is proper grilling, lots of cheese and topnotch fillings. In this case, we added carnitas to our order and it elevated the flavor profile in grand fashion. (There are many other filling add-ons available.) Smoky and tender pork merges well with melted cheese, and ours retained a crispy outer layer. Add salsa, and you’ve pretty much got every food group represented in one dish.

    You can achieve the same wonderful balance with a Burrito Bowl, too ($11.99), complete with a base of rice and black beans topped with shredded cheese and lettuce, pico de gallo, and the meat or veggie add-on of your choice — steak for us this time. We can report great balance between all of the ingredients, and the steak was generously applied and well prepared. The bowl fixings worked equally as well as a dip of sorts for our order of tortilla chips, which were also very tasty. Thinner than some you might encounter, the chips delivered impressive corn flavor and they were very fresh. For safe measure, a small guacamole ($1.99) came home, too, and it was very good — slightly chunky, flavorful and refreshing.

    Another feat of magic at Taqueria Cinco? Good corn ahead of local corn season in the form of elotes ($5.50 for a very large ear of corn). I love Mexican street corn, and it’s so easy to make, even I’ve made it in high corn season. Still, I’m not there yet, and Taqueria Cinco’s is excellent, from the properly cooked corn to the even application of the creamy signature sauce and crumbled cheese, which was all topped off with a slight kick of heat from the seasonings. You can truly pack a lot of flavor and texture in one ear of corn.

    Dessert is always appropriate, even after hearty helping of corn, veggies, and grilled meats. Save some room for the Tres Leches cake ($5.50 a slice) and prepare to thank me. Tres leches cake is, by nature, quite sweet but, done right, the layers — whipped topping, white cake, and milky syrup — add individual notes that give that sweetness a bit of nuance that is just fabulous. That’s what you’ll get at Taqueria Cinco, and it’s a great palate cleanser. (Note: Flan is also available.)

    So, great Mexican food might not be available on every corner, but we’re getting there —at least in our corner of the world. Taqueria Cinco – Westbrook already has a booming fan base, and we are very happy to join in and welcome them to the neighborhood.

    Taqueria Cinco - Westbrook

    1121 Boston Post Road, Westbrook

    (860) 661-5112


    Cuisine: Casual Mexican: Street tacos; tamales; burritos; tortas and much more.

    Atmosphere: Mostly a takeout operation with a wide ordering counter area (albeit in a small space) and cheery decor.

    Service: Friendly and welcoming

    Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon-8 p.m.

    Prices: Reasonable for the quantity and quality. Depending on how you choose toppings, everything on the menu is less than $20, with many items hovering at $10 and under.

    Credit cards: Accepted

    Handicapped access: Dedicated parking lot and ramp, but both could use repaving. The interior is fairly small.

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