Don't be estúpido, eat at Tulcingo!

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During a recent move to southern Orange County, I was saddened to say goodbye to the bevy of restaurants within my former hometown of New Paltz. That is, until an acquaintance in my new home of Washingtonville filled me in on a wonderful gem of a Mexican restaurant in Monroe: Tulcingo.

Healthy eating for teens

My friend told me he used to frequent the place several years ago when it was half its current size. While the dining room at that time wasn’t much to look at, he says, the food was outstanding. According to Olisvet Garcia, whose father Ernesto owns the restaurant, the family-owned business has grown so much over the past six years that it underwent a dramatic renovation three years ago.

Housed in an unassuming building next to a convenience mart, Tulcingo features hand-painted murals, tile floor and tile-topped tables reminiscent of Mexico. The adobe-like walls, with round beams sticking out near the ceiling, complement the look of a Mexican eatery. From time to time Spanish-language tunes emanate from the juke-box.

The menu is packed with authentic Mexican dishes, from tasty soft-shell tacos (for only $2 apiece) to grilled chicken served with fresh guacamole and a tender slab of cactus. Soon after my friend and I were seated by our waitress, we were given a basket of freshly fried (but surprisingly not greasy) tortilla chips, served with a bowl of very spicy homemade salsa. If spicy isn’t your thing, you may want to skip the salsa – the chips are just as tasty without the garnish. And refills are happily provided.

Many dishes on the menu cater to the meat-eating crowd – lots of chicken, beef, pork and seafood – but vegetarians like myself don’t have to feel left out. Almost any dish can be prepared without the meat. I chose the vegetable burrito.

And what a burrito it was! Served with rice and beans, the portion was easily enough for two meals. The large tortilla shell was stuffed with fresh stir-fried vegetables and topped with chopped lettuce and cheese. I love spicy foods, but even though I asked for jalapenos in my burrito, they made my eyes water so I would probably forgo them next time.

Put an end to food battles with your kids!

My companion had ordered two chicken and two beef tacos. These aren’t your Americanized, hard-shell taco. Four fist-sized round tortilla shells were each topped with either chopped chicken or beef, then topped with a layer of green sauce. The green sauce tends to be a bit spicy as well, with a nice cilantro flavor.

We had also ordered guacamole as an appetizer, which was fantastic. Like the tacos, the guacamole is not the vibrant green dip that one typically thinks of. Made with fresh chopped cilantro, red onions, tomatoes and avocado, Tulcingo’s guacamole tastes as if it had been made right before it was brought to the table.

On the Saturday night we visited Tulcingo it was fairly quiet, but picked up within 10 minutes of our arrival. By the time we left, several diners were sitting at the long, L-shaped bar waiting for an open table.

With every table full in the dining room, the two cooks had their hands full in the kitchen. Our table had a view of the kitchen, which was bustling but seemed to have a sense of calm organization. Entrees were presented neatly and in a timely manner.

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The service at Tulcingo is fast and friendly, and the authentic Mexican food is fresh and, quite simply, wonderful. This is one spot I’ll be returning to time and time again.