Taquería Auténtica to Open Restaurant in Bloomfield
On June 6, 2009, Bloomfield’s Michael Natiello, perhaps weary of Essex County residents’ endless complaints over the lack of availability of authentic Mexican food, launched Taquería Auténtica at the Montclair Farmer’s Market. The vision was pretty straightforward. Natiello wanted to introduce people to simple, fresh, authentic Mexican food in the style of roadside taco stands and trucks of Mexico and California, where he lived for six years. In addition to authenticity, he has always been committed to quality, using quality meats, artisanal tortillas made from fresh masa, and organic and locally grown produce when possible.
“Taquería Auténtica 1.0 was almost comically basic. We just loaded up our two Priuses with some barbecue grills, premium meat and produce, a food processor to make salsas, a couple old tables and a cool sign that my wife made from an old piece of plywood, and pretty much winged it”, Natiello says. “When the market manager, Stephen Schuckman, asked how we normally did this, I told him it was our first time. He kind of smiled, shrugged and let us go about our business. I always tell him he gets free tacos for life.
“We had considered a restaurant”, Natiello continued. “But it was the absolute height of the recession and the two banks we proposed financing to simply laughed at us. So my wife suggested that we try to open a stand at the farmers market.
“The response to the taco stand was tremendous. Taquería Auténtica expanded its operations in October 2009 to the Summit Farmers Market, where the welcome from the Summit market visitors was equally enthusiastic. In March 2010, Natiello left his job as a full time attorney, purchased a Freightliner newspaper truck from the Asbury Park Press, installed a kitchen, and began operating in downtown Newark in May 2010.
He chose to serve his food in Newark because he and his wife, who has worked in Newark for more than 10 years as a public interest lawyer, love and believe in Newark. The way they saw it, there was no reason that Newark shouldn’t have all the hip urban accoutrements — including a vibrant, casual and healthy street food culture — which other New Jersey cities like Hoboken and Jersey City already have.
The people of Newark embraced Taquería Auténtica. “Some people even got a little emotional, and said things like, wow, it really says something about Newark that a truck like this came here,” Natiello says. “Newark has tons of good food trucks, but with standard fare such as egg and cheese sandwiches and hot dogs. Everybody knew about the gourmet food truck phenomenon, but people didn’t expect a truck like ours to pop up in Newark. However, Newark’s revival has been going full speed ahead for quite some time – the Performing Arts Center, Mayor Booker, the improvements brought by Newark Downtown District. The time was just right.” Downtown Newark now has four gourmet food trucks and Natiello likes to think of himself as a pioneer.
Careful expansion has continued and Taquería Auténtica is proud to announce that it is opening a real restaurant, at 1035 Broad Street, in Bloomfield. “Bloomfield just felt right,” Natiello says. “My family has lived in Bloomfield for almost ten years, and we watched the culinary landscape evolve. The Orange Squirrel, Bar Cara and Stamna have demonstrated that Bloomfield can be a dining destination just like Montclair.”
“So much of what we are bringing to the restaurant,” Natiello continued, “are the simple things we learned from our little taco truck: use fresh, premium, and preferably local ingredients; know where your food is coming from; keep the food simple; and try to be as authentic to Mexican food traditions as possible. Those are really good rules in general, not just for my restaurant. Even some of those good new hamburger places make you wonder if your hamburger was made from 80 different cows… it’s just kinda scary sometimes, that’s all. I personally know almost all of the suppliers of my food for my restaurant, and where they get their food, and some of them are even my friends.
“A word about the name of the place. We feel that Taquería Auténtica fit the restaurant. It fit the truck so perfectly. Taco trucks kind of started the gourmet food truck phenomenon. They’re just a really pure, basic, simple way to get fresh food. Authenticity – the word is a bit overused these days, we’re aware. Authenticity is not originality, except insofar as not many Mexican restaurants do things the traditional way, so in that respect we may be somewhat original. In fact, authenticity is almost the opposite of originality. It’s taking the traditions and following them carefully. We always adhered to the concept that authenticity was doing things the way people have been doing them for years. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to Mexican food. Our food is made the old way.
“Of course, we’re not above the occasional twist, especially with Asian flavors. We’ve developed a spicy black bean and ginger mahi mahi taco with red cabbage that we typically have as a special, and we also have a Korean barbecue taco with jicama slaw.
“We try to do our part concerning sustainability,” Natiello says. “All of our packaging is made from recycled material, and some of it is even compostable.