You’ve been living under a rock, and yet you know about them. Maybe it’s all those disembodied Instagram hands you’ve seen dunking amber taco shells into cups of consommé. Or maybe it’s all the OD-ing on "Parts Unknown" reruns, or the news segment you watched about that taco truck in Jackson Heights with endless lines and an ever-present security detail. Google searches for "tacos de birria" and "long island" might lead you to discover that the only place serving them is a little cantina by the name of "it looks like there aren’t any great matches for your search," although the soon-to-reopen Ella’s in Greenlawn has featured it in the past, and Riverhead's Taco Bout It features a "pambazo birra" on its menu.
Or, you might consider looking for birria on a different island, namely Taco Island, which is what someone actually named a new restaurant in Mount Sinai, and that someone is Aman Bhola. Until a recent "business divorce," the 27-year-old Indian American had developed quite a Suffolk County following for his food truck, Picante Tex-Mex, serving a large menu of the usual suspects. Bhola, who speaks Spanish and "fell in love with Mexican cuisine early," made several trips to the country to learn how to prepare birria and other dishes, and went bricks-and-mortar with an expansive menu in August. During its first weeks, Taco Island found itself overrun and forced to close early.
"A lot of people had been waiting for us to open," Bhola says. "It was a bigger rush than we expected and we sold out."
Birria tacos reportedly hail from the Mexican state of Jalisco, and first gained popularity in the U.S. on the West Coast. To produce his version, Bhola stews beef for 8 hours, then uses the rendered fat to fry tortillas on a griddle till they’re semi-firm, fills them with the meat, and then serves the whole thing with a condiment cup of the stew for $2.99 each. It sounds simple, but something magical tends to happen when you dip tacos into such stew, "a fiesta in the mouth," as Bhola puts it. "People eat them and fall in love."
And then presumably migrate to Instagram and rhapsodize.
Taco Island is at 5507 Nesconset Hwy in Mount Sinai, 631-250-5050, thetacoisland.com. Hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.