The little taco house at the end of an alley faces nothing more romantic than a Babylon municipal parking lot. Yet Swell Taco, this steamy week night, is packed. Fans whir above; French doors are thrown open to the evening air.
This could be Montauk. Or Malibu. Or Cabo San Lucas. There's a surfboard on one side of the room, a tiki mask above the bar. On a TV screen, a surfing movie plays.
The division between indoors and outdoors seems vague. Waitresses in short shorts and T-shirts ferry margaritas and Tecates to tables on either side of the open doorway.
My salt-rimmed margarita on the rocks is tart, icy, ideal. What else to do but share a plate of nachos? They're smothered in ground beef, refried beans and cheese, along with tomatoes that should be brighter and sweeter, black olives and jalapeños out of jars or cans. I'm thankful for the fresh chopped cilantro.
The star of my taco trio is clearly the one with finely shredded chicken heaped onto a soft corn tortilla, topped with a piquant salsa Verde. A classic fried fish taco is good, but the carne asada variety harbors overcooked cubes of beef. My dinner date's San Clemente burrito is stuffed with grilled chicken and a meld of beans, salsa, sour cream, rice and cheese. No single flavor is discernible.
But the music is good, the multigenerational crowd looks perky, and my margarita lasts me until the end of the meal.
The night is a little cooler as we leave. Making our way past a curbside Dumpster to our car, I realize the beach is as much a state of mind as it is a real place.