2340 Jericho Turnpike, New Hyde Park
SERVICE: You can order at a kiosk and mostly avoid human interaction, though runners will check on you
AMBIENCE: Airy, loud and cheerful, with plenty of reclaimed wood and pastel accents
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday from 11:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Parking lot; wheelchair accessible; credit cards accepted.
Long Island is well equipped in the taco department. With plenty of carnitas and al pastor to go around, though, it’s somehow never enough. Tacos continue to appear on even the most non-Mexican of menus, and unflagging love of all things avocado drove a few new openings in 2018 (Long Beach's Pure Shore Kitchen and Garden City's Guac Shop among them).
The triple-pronged love of avocados, tacos and fast-casual eating converge at Avo Taco, which opened in New Hyde Park this fall. Airy, cheerful and deafening when busy, Avo Taco's hacienda-like dining room is cast in splashes of coral, turquoise and gold, with plenty of reclaimed wood and Mexican tile. An open kitchen adds to the kinetic ambience, and seats are spread between an inviting bar and rough-cut wooden tables, high-tops and counters.
This is the latest venture from Rooted Hospitality Group, who also own Rumba and Cowfish in Hampton Bays, Rhum in Patchogue and another Avo Taco in Doral, Florida. Hass avocados (more than 1,000 per week) are deployed with verve in eight kinds of guacamole, 17 different tacos, grain bowls and a handful of apps. Consequently, ordering takes some thought, especially as several tacos echo one another (blue cheese sauce is a recurring element, for instance, and crispy onions are in heavy rotation). Guests can order either at a screen kiosk, a counter register or the bar, with dishes delivered in staccato fashion on metal trays and in paper boats. Friendly runners circulate in the dining room, checking to make sure you have what you need; prices are easy on the wallet, and for those with children, the formula — large, casual dining room, unbreakable dinnerware, and $4 tacos — makes for an easy night out.
Likely, your meal will begin with guacamole, a few versions of which are topped with things such as mango salsa or sugared bacon and cotija cheese. The baseline guac is lumpy and limey, and tastes very fresh but not “beyond compare,” a catchphrase here. It comes dolloped on a paper boat with two handfuls of delicate, decent tortilla chips that are sometimes warm, sometimes not, and probably batched earlier in the day. After sampling four guacamole iterations, I’d err on the side of simplicity, with pico de gallo or corn salsa as an accent (bacon, for instance, was too chewy).
Also arriving in a paper boat with chips is a small plastic tub of soupy green chili queso without much cheesy character. Street corn was chewy, cold and practically inedible. Our starter course was saved, at least one night, by a chunky, gently spicy tortilla soup loaded with chicken and wispy tortilla strips.
Of course Avo Taco has grain bowls, which appear as messy constructions of quinoa and mesclun topped with things such as charred (but hard) Brussels sprouts, roasted cauliflower, salsa and crema. If I had to choose, I'd go with the Tuna Montezuma, capped with cubed ahi tuna in a gingery vinaigrette.
Tacos are divided into chicken, beef, pork, seafood and vegetarian categories, and ordering more than a few at once can result in a blur of crema and shredded meat as you try to figure out which is which (the server tells you, but it’s easy to forget). Since these tacos come on sometimes unwarmed corn tortillas, they can lose heat quickly. They also appear composed in haste. The best among them were vegetarian — the Ami Shroomer, a surge of flavors in the form of crispy onions and deeply concentrated mushrooms. The messier Rastaman — lightly breaded and fried avocado slices with corn salsa, a touch of sweetish slaw and crema — exemplified how veggie-based tacos can rival and sometimes eclipse their meatier cousins.
Diametrically opposed but equally tasty were a few succulent skirt-steak tacos: One slathered in chimichurri, and another dosed with melted blue cheese and crispy onions. The El Guapo, filled with braised, shredded short rib and roasted mushrooms, felt heavier by comparison.
Sea- and pork-based tacos fared more unevenly: The single finger of fish in a “blackened” mahi mahi taco was not blackened at all, though distinctly dried out. A fried shrimp taco (the Shrimp Boat) suffered from too much sweetness, as did another taco of seared cubes of pork belly with grilled pineapple, mango sriracha aioli and sweet chili, each cloying element amplifying the next.
But if you like sweetness, you are in luck: pastel-hued house cocktails are also sugared up, from a prickly pear margarita to a passion fruit piña colada (double rum punch is pitch-perfect, though). The drinks draw a lively bar crowd, though, and seem to be an integral part of the Avo Taco formula: Easygoing, on trend and uncomplicated.