Halfway through a sesame Buddha bowl from Lota Veco, which just opened in East Northport, I was contemplating the unusual name at my desk when I picked up the phone to call general manager Joe Lindwall. An hour before, I had grilled Lindwall on the restaurant's backstory — food, backstory, owner — but had forgotten to ask a very important question.
"Joe, what does 'Lota Veco," mean?"
"Well, it's actually 'love taco," he said, though with the letters rearranged in a sort of vertical jumble.
Duh. That would explain why the words 'love taco,' were emblazoned in marquee lights on the wall of Lota Veco, which opened on Laurel Road a few days ago with breezy, beachy West Coast vibes, rife with pastels, pale wood and a few couches for lounging (as well as about eight tables). It feels like a luncheonette, juicery, coffee shop and cafe rolled into one.
Lota Veco was a long-simmering concept for owner Sosh Andriano, who also owns The Whales Tale, a harborside restaurant a few miles away in Northport. The Whales Tale's tacos are well known locally, and Lindwall said they were given a healthier spin for Lota Veco by Andriano and chef Brian Giordano. Its menu riffs on the healthy-ish things people go for these days: grain bowls, chunky salads, burritos and quesadillas, tacos (naturally) and beverages such as cold-brew coffee (made here) and smoothies.
There's cashew cream in place of regular crema, one of many nods to vegans. There are almond flour tortillas for burritos (for gluten-free folk) and, of course, there are acai bowls. There's local beer and wine and a pomegranate-jalapeno margarita and a cucumber matcha martini, though no actual bar — everything is ordered at the counter, then delivered tableside.
The six tacos ($5 to $6 each) are mostly pre-composed, from a steak taco with Oaxacan cheese and cabbage to a tuna taco with honey-cilantro aioli toi, a spin on The Whales Tale's Maui Chicken taco, albeit with onions crisped in almond flour and a different rub on the chicken. Each can be ordered on a flour, wheat or corn tortilla.
The rest of the menu is more modular: Choose a format (salad, bowl, burrito or quesadilla) then choose a protein (meats, fish, vegan chili and vegan buffalo chicken, for plant-based eaters) and/or cheese, including vegan cheddar and mozzarella. Most dishes fall between $10 and $14, and there is a stripped-down, less expensive kids' menu.
Both desserts, a raspberry cheesecake and chocolate mousse, are made in house and are (you guessed it) gluten-free and vegan; house cold drinks run from smoothies to chai-matcha green tea, cucumber-mint agua fresca and the like.
Lota Veco is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 192 Laurel Rd., East Northport. 631-651-9775. lotaveco.com