An Exclusive First Look at Naco Taco
What Michael Scelfo did for grilled carrots and charred shishito peppers at his Harvard Square restaurant, Alden & Harlow, he’s soon to do for guajillo chilies and chicharones at his imaginative new taqueria, Naco Taco. Set to open in early May in Central Square, Naco is being described as a “long-term pop-up,” as Scelfo and co-owners Brian Lesser and Alex Tannenbaum move into the long dormant, MIT-owned building at 297 Massachusetts Avenue. Inspired by the food parks of Austin and Portland, Oregon, Naco Taco features a 90-seat patio, a loft-like interior with pinball machines and standup arcade games (Pac-Man, Gauntlet), televisions playing spaghetti westerns and throwback music videos, and a 30-foot kitchen trailer that will double as an outdoor food truck in warmer weather.
As Scelfo told Boston magazine earlier, with Naco he wanted to avoid well-trod taqueria territory such as pollo verde and carne asada. Instead, the chef is taking a creative approach to tacos and tortas: piling fried smelt onto corn tortillas in place of battered cod or mahi mahi, and eschewing lengua and pounded chicken cutlets in favor of unconventional proteins like lamb belly. Then there are the haute accoutrements, something that goes far beyond chopped cilantro and shards of eye-watering white onion—think pepitas, salted cabbage, pickled kale, and half a dozen house-made salsas.
“I don’t think anyone will sit down and say, these aren’t tacos,” Scelfo says. “They’re going to look at it and realize they’re a play on classic combinations. All the key elements are there, but instead we’re doing things like whole fried smelts, confit chicken thighs, and lamb belly. We’re even making a pig’s head taco that we’re wrapping in a blood tortilla.”
All of Naco’s corn tortillas are made in-house, with vegetarian alternatives made sans lard. Scelfo has even emulated that same roasted corn flavor in his house-baked telera bread, whisking in masa and pickled corn, to achieve the same “supportive, baseline of flavor” for his range of tortas. These include sandwich creations like Naco’s cabeza ahogada, a favorite of Scelfo’s, which combines the best aspects of a French dip and a Cubano.
“It’s basically a drunk torta, where we slice and sear a porky head cheese, put Benton’s bacon on top, press it on a griddle, then submerge it in a guajillo chili and pork broth,” Scelfo says. “It’s a pork extravaganza.”
The supporting cast to Naco’s taco focus includes Mexican classics like made-to-order guacamole; a reinterpretation of traditional Yucetecan pumpkin sikil pak, a savory pumpkin seed hummus with tomatoes and habaneros; chilaquiles that substitute tortilla chips for fried pigs’ ears; and a little gem salad, treated like Mexican street corn, with wood-grilled stalks and a cotija-based aioli.
On the beverage side of things, Naco’s 25-seat, horseshoe-shaped bar sits at the center of the dining room, serving a selection of 30 rotating canned beers, seasonal sangria offerings, shandies, wines on tap, and seven different types of micheladas, in variations like roasted tomatillo, mole, and smoked agave nectar.
And oh, did we mention Choco Tacos? Yeah, for the sweet tooth in your party, there are homemade, chocolate-dipped, ice-cream-stuffed flour tortillas, modeled after the Klondike original.
297 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; nacocentral.com.