Credit: Nelly's Taqueria

Criminal mastermind, or criminal master chef? That’s what Will Colon tried to figure out as he contemplated the burglary of his Hicksville eatery, Nelly’s Taqueria, one of Newsday’s Top 100 restaurants.

When he arrived at work on Tuesday morning, Colon said he found the cash register tampered with and emptied of the $100 he’d left in it the night before. Then he noticed that the burglar bars on the back window had been pried apart. When he started to review the security video, which Nassau County police confirm is part of an active investigation, Colon discovered that Nelly’s had been the scene of a truly bizarre crime.

At 1:51 a.m., according to what Colon says is on the tape, a young male appeared in the kitchen. He put on a pair of food-service gloves, turned on the stove, took a pot down from the rack and left it to heat up while he went into the dining room. He used a hammer to force open the cash register. Before he pocketed the money, he put a dollar bill in the tip jar on the counter, then he took a cold soda from the case, and returned to the kitchen.

“He was cooking up a storm,” Colon said. “He heated up some beans, he sauteed some chicken and some shrimp. The way he handled that pan, man, the dude had some skills.”

With grudging respect, Colon noted that the intruder was cooking in near darkness. “The only light was from one of those neon fixtures that traps bugs.”

Colon said the intruder ate his meal while standing over the steam table. When he was finished, he followed strict kitchen protocol, re-covering the containers of food tightly with plastic wrap and returning them to the refrigerator. He washed and dried the pots, hung them back where they belonged and wiped down all the surfaces he had dirtied — as well as the floor where he had dropped some food. An hour after he arrived, he left through the back window, prying the bars back into place as best he could.

It was 10:45 a.m. when Colon said he got to work. By then his chef had been working in the kitchen for a solid hour or more. “I said, ‘Ramon, we were robbed!’ — he hadn’t noticed anything.”

Soon the police arrived and told Colon, he said, that this was a new one on them. Colon said that a detective suggested they watch the security video from two nights before and discovered that, in fact, the same fellow had broken in as well at 2 a.m. on Monday morning, and spent two hours taking food out of the refrigerator and wrapping it up before leaving without taking any money — or cooking any meals.

Colon didn’t open for business on Tuesday. Instead he spent the day throwing out the contents of his refrigerators and disinfecting the kitchen. “The guy looked like he worked clean,” he said, “but I really couldn’t see everything he did.”

By Wednesday, Nelly’s was open for business. “And it was a good thing that we were,” Colon said, “because it was National Taco Day.”

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