Yam and carnitas tacos at Mad Taco in Essex
As a big-city diner from Burlington, I’m accustomed to — and perhaps scarred by — the perils of eating in the presence of seagulls
. The most recent offense occurred a year ago, when a gull swooped down and stole part of my pastrami sandwich at Burlington Bay
So I was wary when I arrived the other evening at the new Mad Taco
, situated at the edge of a parking lot at the Essex Shoppes
, and saw gulls circling overhead. Did I dare dine al fresco? But it was a beautiful day, so I took my chances at a picnic table outside. My tacos were delivered there: roasted yams with black beans, slaw and cilantro; pork with mole, avocado-verde sauce, onions and cilantro.
When I needed more water to quiet a house hot sauce, Fiery Pickle, that spiced up my meal, I carried my food inside rather than risk a bird stealing it while I replenished my drink. Finishing supper indoors, I studied old black-and-white photographs on the walls. The portraits of musicians and presenters from the local music scene — Strangefolk, the Unknown Blues Band, Nectar Rorris — took me back to shows from decades past.
The Mad Taco in Essex
, which opened three weeks ago, is the third Mac Taco in a mini-chain that started in Waitsfield in November 2010. This one shares space with a movie theater and music hall in a building called the Double E Performance Center.
The night I visited, Kevin Statesir, a partner in the business, took a break from working to show me around. He is a founder and former owner of Higher Ground
in South Burlington who said he’s pleased to stay involved in music promotion at a more laid-back pace.
The idea of a shared dining and entertainment space, Statesir said, is that “people will come for food and stay for music.”
Mad Taco in Essex
We walked down the hallway that connects the restaurant to the movie theater. The big screen — aka the T-Rex Theater — showing Incredibles 2
that night, has a stage below it where musicians will perform shows for a seated audience of 400 to 500 people.
“There are a lot of people who don’t get to play in Burlington because the Flynn is too big and they don’t want to play a nightclub,” Statesir said.
Local acts perform on weekends in the restaurant and outdoor dining area. Statesir hopes to present old music movies, including Gimme Shelter
, in a smaller theater that adjoins Mad Taco.
“We want to make sure people have a nice food experience,” he said. “And we’re hoping to keep them around for more.”
I ate on a music-free night, but can vouch for the $11.50 food experience. Statesir told me he’s a fan of the fish tacos, whose quality impressed him as "picky" fish eater.
“I had the fresh fish tacos the other night, and they were incredible,” he said. “I had no idea how good they were.”
Dining on a Dime is a weekly series featuring well-made, filling bites (something substantial enough to qualify as a small meal or better) for $12 or less. Know of a tasty dish we should feature? Drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.