While there are loads of casual yet pricey restaurants on the North Fork, spots that are cheap and cheerful and serve fantastic food are in all too short supply. In this regard, MattiTaco, on Route 25, stands alone. The bright-painted taqueria is that rare thing: an inexpensive place that uses carefully-sourced ingredients in inventive ways without making a big deal about it.
Here’s something else they don’t make a big deal about: MattiTaco welcomes dogs. Owner Justin Schwartz has equipped the capacious outdoor seating area with everything a dog could desire. There’s a leashing area and water bowls in three sizes. There are umbrellas to shade the dogs from the summer heat. And there’s a dog-loving proprietor.
“MattiTaco has been dog-friendly from Day One,” says owner Justin Schwartz, who has six rescue dogs, two of which he adopted while on a trip to Ecuador. Given that he feeds his dogs fresh organic food, it’s no surprise that he treats the care and feeding of his customers as seriously as he does his animal friends.
The tortilla, from the storied Tortilleria Nixtamal in Queens, arrive “warm and sweating,” Schwartz says, three times a week. Schwartz obtains other raw materials from local farms. Vegetables play a lead role on the seasonally-driven menu, which makes good use of the North Fork bounty. If you time your visit right, you might have masa-battered shishito peppers, a shiitake mushroom taco in which the mushrooms have been slow-poached in olive oil until they achieve a confit-like texture, or root vegetables that Schwartz rubs with a piquant Moroccan pepper paste before roasting them in the oven. He’s currently experimenting with a play on a traditional Scotch egg. The MattiTaco version features a hard-cooked quail egg (from local poultry farm Feisty Acres) that’s wrapped in a beet and bulgur shell and finished with house-made mustard.
If you crave meat, there’s the MattiTaco iteration of the cheese burger taco made famous by Alex Stupak of Empellon restaurant fame. Schwartz, whose rendering of the burger involves pickled onion, pico de gallo, and chihuaha cheese, put it on the menu with Stupak’s blessing.
For all his years in professional kitchens, Schwartz modestly rejects the label of “chef.” Though he’s worked in restaurants since he was a boy — he is the brother and former catering partner of chef-restaurateur Noah Schwartz of Noah’s Restaurant in Greenport — he sees himself as a culinary impresario who happens to cater and cook. When he started the business a few years ago, he was more or less an itinerant taco vendor who catered events and sold his food from a 1964 Airstream at spots around the North Fork, including Corey Creek Vineyards. Though he still does a lot of catering — from private dinners to poolside taco affairs, his days as a roaming taco peddler are over. The establishment of MattiTaco on terra firma has made a lot of food lovers very happy. Rumor has it that dogs across the North Fork are delighted, too.