Papi’s Taqueria serves authentic Mexican cuisine in Old Lyme
Old Lyme – Adrian “Papi” Vidals and his partner, restaurateur Kate Lanfair, are bringing flavors melded in the mountains of central Mexico to a small take-out spot near Interstate 95.
The couple served up their first tacos, tortas and tostadas at Papi’s Taqueria, 19 Halls Road, in January. Supply chain disruptions, bouts of COVID-19 among contractors and even car troubles delayed the opening by more than a year and a half.
Lanfair acknowledged moments of doubt as rent payments went out but no money came in month after month. She cited fabrication of a stainless steel hood as the main source of the delay, accounting for almost half of the lost time.
“Even when our hood was finally being delivered, the truck broke down on the side of the road,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘Is this sign? Should we not do this?’”
Lanfair, who has owned Westbrook Pizza for more than two decades, said Vidals arrived in Westbrook as the head of her kitchen eight years ago. That’s where he found time amid the preparation of all those Greek pizzas to make dishes from his hometown of Puebla, Mexico, for the waitstaff.
This, Lanfair recalled thinking, “is too good not to sell.”
In the time it took to turn that idea into reality, the couple welcomed two children: Addy, 6, and Cruz, 2.
Lanfair choked up Saturday morning while addressing a group of local dignitaries at a ribbon cutting ceremony. Economic Development Chairwoman Cheryl Poirier, all three members of the Board of Selectmen and state Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, were among those in attendance.
“It was a long road, but it was worth it,” she told them.
The flavors honed at Papi’s run two generations deep. Vidals’ mother, Maria Luisa Sanchez Espejel, has been on site since the restaurant opened.
Lanfair credited Vidals with teaching her his native language over time and pizza at the Westbrook restaurant: “I learned kitchen Spanish first, and then moved on from there.”
Espejel through a translator said she learned to cook as a little girl from her mother. Here in the United States, she’s been working to adapt the flavors of hot sauces and salsas so they appeal to an American palate not as tolerant of high heat levels as the Mexican tongue.
Lanfair said Espejel, who goes by Abuela, is here on a 10-year visa. It allows her to split her time between family in Mexico and her son and grandchildren in the United States.
The menu is inspired by Puebla’s fusion of indigenous Mexican, Spanish, French and Arabic traditions. At Papi’s, that translates to street tacos, burritos and quesadillas Lanfair described as authentic Mexican rather than an Americanized version some might expect.
She called out Espejel’s sopes made with freshly mixed corn flour and formed into disks by hand, then topped with beans, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and a choice of chicken, steak, carnitas, ground beef or chorizo.
“We use a lot of fresh, clean ingredients,” she said. “Nothing smothered or covered.”
Papi’s Taqueria is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 3-8 p.m. on Sundays. Cash and credit cards are accepted. For more information, call (860) 434-8226 (TACO).