Among food-writing FAQs, "How do you hear about new restaurants?" is close to the top of the list, and the answer is "every which way." Restaurant owners sometimes reach out directly; friends, colleagues and readers tip me off; Facebook and Instagram are good sources of information, as are Yelp, craigslist and the New York State Liquor Authority website. But nothing beats driving around.
That's how I came to "discover" Taqueria El Sabor Poblano on East Marie Street in Hicksville. I was drawn to the tidy little free-standing building, and even my poor Spanish understood the sign proclaiming: "100% comida Mexicana. No acepte imitaciones."
On my first visit I sampled the tacos, enjoying classic renditions filled with lengua (tongue), cecina (salted beef), cabeza (head cheese) and al pastor (traditionally made with spit-roasted pork; here made with a similarly seasoned grilled product). While I waited for my order, I took in the charming interior — tablecloths covered with serape fabric and a wall installation of illuminated Jarritos Mexican soda bottles.
On my second visit, I got the back story: The restaurant is owned by the Gutierrez family and their partner, Hugo Escamilla. Chef Maria Gutierrez, her daughter Zuleima explained, had always been a great cook. During a 15-year career at Burger King, she started bringing in Mexican dishes for her co-workers. After she was sidelined by injury, she started a small catering business and, last year, the family decided to make it official. Maria had already been teaching Zuleima recipes from her native Tehuacán, a city in the Mexican state of Puebla. Maria’s father, Alejandro, has a construction company, and set about renovating the former deli. Taqueria El Sabor Poblano opened a few days before the pandemic shut down indoor dining.
Although the name highlights tacos, the menu also features tamales, burritos, empanadas, chilaquiles and taquitos as well as two types of Mexican sandwiches: tortas and cemitas. Zuleima explained that while "torta" is a general term for sandwich, a cemita is made with a specific type of sesame-seeded roll, chipotle chilies as opposed to jalapeno and, in season, a Mexican herb called papalo.
At Taqueria El Sabor Poblano, you can get your cemita with cecina, sausage, various types of pork and the bestseller, chicken milanesa (fried cutlet). Watching Maria build a cemita is something to behold. First, she splits a plump roll and toasts it on the griddle. The top side is spread with mayonnaise, the bottom with refried beans. On top of the mayo, Maria layers slices of avocado, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and onions and then shredded Oaxaca cheese. Atop this already perilous pile she places three pieces of fried chicken cutlet and drizzles them liberally with chipotle in adobo. Then comes another pile of cheese before the sandwich is capped by the top of the bun.
We’re not done yet. The sandwich is moved gingerly to the griddle to toast the bottom, then it is turned over, even more gingerly, so the top can toast as well. It is a thing of beauty and, at $13, a steal.
I’m going to have to return over the weekend if I want to try the chicken mole poblano or barbecued lamb. Count me in.
Taqueria El Sabor Poblano is at 60 E Marie St., Hicksville, 516-605-1670