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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Authentic, or Just as Good

By B.A. Nilsson

Bros Tacos

319 Ontario St., Albany, 935-1096. Serving 11-11 Tue-Sat, 1-8 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: tacos and burritos

Entrée price range: $2.50 (single taco) to $7.75 (specialty tacos plate)

Ambiance: storefront

‘We grew up in Albany,” explains Adam Daniels, who goes on to describe the wide-ranging travels he and his brother, Josh, enjoyed—travels that took them as far afield as Central America and convinced them that their native city needed a taco joint. “We weren’t trying for anything really authentic,” he goes on. “Just a place with good food. The kind of place where we’d want to eat.”

I’m wondering how he defines “authentic.” He’s making his own tortillas, which isn’t easy and certainly doesn’t seem to be required by places that present themselves as faithful to some ideal. He’s even making his own chorizo now, which is a burrito’s soulmate. And all of this is going on at the scrappy little storefront known as Bros Tacos, at the corner of Ontario and Morris streets, which looks about as authentic as you’d expect such a place to look.

There’s a table. There’s space at a counter. There’s a TV blaring its nonsense, aimed at the service counter. You’ll glance at it while awaiting your takeout order. There’s a cheerful, colorful, catch-as-catch-can decor. It’s the kind of place I wish I lived near, because I know I’d see my neighbors in there regularly.

The menu stays on the side of simple. Nachos ($6.75) are dressed with melted cheese, but it’s chipotle sour cream alongside the pico de gallo and guacamole. Add $1.75 for chicken, ground beef or beans. There’s a four-buck burger; add a dollar for the vegetarian version. The salads list sports a taco salad ($7.75) with a mix of greens and guacamole, chips and pico de gallo with your choice of meat or beans. A pair of tostadas runs $7; tamales are $3.50 apiece. A quesadilla, built on a flour tortilla, runs $6 and an extra $1.75 with meat or beans.

Which brings us to the heart of the menu. The tacos are created with soft corn tortillas, two tortillas apiece, garnished with onions and cilantro, served with your choice of red or green salsa. For $2.50 apiece, choose chicken (BBQ chicken an option), pork, beef or veggies. Bump it up a quarter and you can get grilled marinated steak chunks, fried or grilled fish, or shrimp as the main ingredient. Speaking of which, a shrimp tostada is in the works, and look for fried shrimp as a taco filling soon.

Specialty tacos ($3 apiece) add extras like cotija cheese and a custom-paired salsa. The $7.75 taco plate special gives you two tacos and sides of rice and black beans. We sampled a plate with a pork taco, pineapple salsa and crumbly cotija as complements, and a black bean-and-avocado veggie taco, again with cotija and a dollop of sour cream. A nice thing about soft tacos is that they survive the reheating process—we got our order to go and consumed it at home.

The burrito was created nearly a century ago, according to some good guesses, when a roadside food vendor came up with the novel idea of wrapping his wares in a warm flour tortilla. Not surprisingly, American eaters have taken a small, simple treat and swollen it into the formidable serving now expected, but you do end up with a complete meal and a nice array of flavors. Along with something to drip onto my shirt, without which a fast-food meal doesn’t seem correct.

Bros’ burritos are generously filled with your choice of meat—carne asada, chicken, pork, fish, shrimp among them—or vegetables, with cheese, beans and rice added inside. We checked out the chicken ($7) and the carne asada ($7.25), my preference tilting toward the latter marinated-beef filling, especially after I dosed it with the impressively spicy habanero papaya salsa.

If you’d like to steer your burrito in a different direction still, substitute scrambled eggs and cheese for the rice and beans and enjoy a breakfast-style sandwich.

Adam previously worked in fine- dining Albany-area restaurants (Pearl, Lulu) and kitchens in Manhattan (Le Poeme, e.g.), but he enjoys the different approach that his more casual taco joint invites. Still, there’s an unexpectedly refined approach. “We make everything from scratch,” he says, including the aforementioned tortillas, a variety of salsas, and all the prep that goes into the fillings, such as the chili-citrus marinated pork and the grilled pineapple shrimp.

“And we do some things a little differently,” he says, “like the fish tacos, which are served in our own cream sauce.”

I have yet to sample the dessert monkey rolls ($4.75), which are a pair of deep-fried bananas with coconut and chocolate; I suspect I’ll head for the flan first ($2.50). But that’ll be the stuff of a future visit, as I make my way through more of Bros Tacos’ excellent items.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

It’s the Toast of Christmas Past. New World Home Cooking (1411 Route 212, Saugerties) holds its 13th New World Champagne Dinner on Friday (Dec. 18) with favorite selections from the 12 past celebrations. Chef Ric Orlando and CIA wine professor Michael Weiss have chosen such items as a blue corn-lobster tamale with huitlacoche-poblano crema, paired with an Iron Horse Russian Cuvee; wild mushroom pierogis with white woodears and lemon-chive butter with a Pol Roget Brut; and Creole-style pan-roasted quail with dirty rice, red beans and sauce picante alongside an Australian Shingleback Black Bubbles. Dinner is at 7 PM and priced at $75 per person ($50 without wine). Reservations are required. Call (845) 246-0900. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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