Corn fritters at Tommy Tacos, which has opened in the Huntington...

Corn fritters at Tommy Tacos, which has opened in the Huntington shopping plaza that also houses the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Credit: Newsday/Corin Hirsch

If the road toward opening a restaurant tends to be bumpy, the one Tom and Elisa Stein took to open their new Huntington taco spot needed a hardcore 4x4.

After a few spaces they had settled on over the last year fell through, the couple finally began building out Tommy Tacos a few doors down from the Department of Motor Vehicles, in the same plaza as Home Depot.

Then, the pandemic hit, so they waited out the lockdown. In early August, the Steins finally opened their doors — four days before Isaias tore across Long Island, knocking out their power for almost a week. "We had to throw everything away," said chef Tom Stein, from the tortillas to the soy chorizo.

With 25 years in restaurants under his belt, some of it at TAO in New York City, he soldiered on. Now that the power back on and no storms are in the forecast, Stein has been cranking out tacos, burritos and Mexican snacks in the narrow spot, decorated to look like an alley with metal chairs, strings of Edison bulbs, industrial detailing and bold graffiti murals painted by Elisa Stein.

The idea for the place came to the Steins during their honeymoon in Mexico, first on the Riviera Maya and then Baja California. After moving from the city to Huntington three years ago, they began looking for a place to create what Elisa Stein described as "a cool, fun taco spot where you could get a restaurant-quality taco without having to break the bank."

With notable taquerias just to the south, in Huntington Station, and higher-end Mexican places in the village to the north, the Steins distinguish themselves by blending traditional and modern elements, such as rice bowls and a funnel cake made from a twisted churro.

Stein sources nixtamlized corn tortillas from Tortilleria La Milpa de Rosa in Westchester and makes most everything else daily, including carnitas that takes hours to braise, a cold lobster and corn taco (a monthly special) and a seasonal veggie taco that will rotate seasonally — but for now is filled with roasted cauliflower. "It was important for us to have a cool vegan offering," said Elisa Stein, including tacos, quesadillas and burritos filled with Soyrizo, textured vegetable protein that mimics chorizo. 

Chief among snacks are sculptural, masa-battered fried corn fritters served with a chile-queso dip, and those quick on the daily draw might score an ice cream taco — a house-made shell filled with dulce de leche ice cream and the dipped in chocolate. "We actually don't have freezer space, so we only make a certain amount and they sell out fast," Tom Stein said. 

A changing daily aqua fresca (watermelon on a recent day), Mexican coke and canned beer are among the drinks. Tacos fall between $3.75 to $4.25 apiece; burritos, rice bowls, chunky salads and quesadillas, $10.50 to $12; and snacks, $3 to $7.50.

Half of Tommy Tacos 44 seats are still blocked off, due to coronavirus-related restrictions, so takeout is making up the bulk of their business. The Steins have also added heavy sanitation to the list of tasks they couldn't have envisioned before the pandemic and are awaiting a new sterilization system, called Avast, that fills the space each night with a nontoxic antiviral aerosol. "We're hoping it's something that takes off as a trend," said Tom Stein.

Tommy Tacos open 11:30 a.m. to 9 pm. Tuesday to Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at 821 New York Ave., Huntington, 631-982-8022.

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