Connecticut foodies, finding good Mexican fare can present a challenge. Sadly,
Mexican ownership is no guarantee of quality or authenticity, with some
purveyors cynically offering food that’s little or no improvement on standard
Tex- Mex. Give the people what they want, I guess. And although non-Mexican
ownership can be a cause for concern, it doesn’t guarantee the absence of
quality or authenticity, either.
Quality and authenticity depend on the standards set by restaurant ownership
and the effort expended to uphold them.
A wonderful surprise in West Haven, a town whose dining scene is on a
definite upswing, is non-Mexican-owned Fresco, which means fresh, recent or
just-made. I had planned to do a casual review of Fresco, but so pleased am I
with my initial visit that I decide to pay it a second visit and run it instead
as an upscale review. I’m confident Fresco can stand up to the higher level of
scrutiny that switch entails.
On atmosphere, Fresco could certainly qualify as a casual review. The
interior is reminiscent of a Mexican villa, but neither formal nor fancy. A
giant sun with a raised golden face greets one in the entry, the solar theme
repeated throughout the restaurant. There are red tile floors, blue and orange
tile counters and stucco-like walls. Tabletops are bare, but the disposition of
the staff is as sunny as the setting.
On affordability, Fresco could certainly qualify as casual with several
treats priced under $3—and what a meal you could make of them! Fresco’s stated
goal is to “take you … through the streets, alleys, plazas and markets of Mexico
City,” where chef Joseph Collier lived for 14 months, and it succeeds wildly.
(Collier and his wife Liz are partners in Fresco with Tim and Dawn Callahan and
also own Savin Rock Roasting Company across the street.) Addictive parade
peanuts ($2.50), freshly oven roasted and shelled, are tossed in a blend of
house ground chilies, sea salt and lime. The Mexico City corn ($2.50) may be the
best ear of corn you’ll ever have, the corn slowly roasted in its husk, brushed
with guajillo chili butter, grilled over an open flame, and garnished with queso
fresco and crema Mexicana.
Hovering around the $3 mark are stunningly fresh street cart-style tacos, the
chicken, pork loin and pork carnitas versions running $2.75, the steak and
shrimp versions running $3.50. Those fillings are served atop four-inch griddled
corn tortillas with diced onion, chopped cilantro and a choice of salsa verde,
salsa rojo or salsa picante. The salsas exhibit the same kind of freshness found
in the salsa that accompanies the obligatory corn chips served at the start of
the meal. The meats are beautifully marinated, unlike some Mexican-owned joints
that throw in plain meat. But the greatest secret is the soft tortillas, the
dough freshly made twice daily by a charming lady from Tlaxcala, Mexico named
Alejandra Espinosa (who also prepares all the desserts). This is lovingly
This Mexican eatery manages the rare trick of being rigorously authentic in
key areas like its street food while exhibiting great creative flair in others.
Its food is grounded in a thorough understanding of the cuisine, but in its
imaginative combinations and international influences, it’s also Nuevo
It’s hard to imagine enjoying great Mexican fare like Fresco’s without an
appropriate beverage, whether a pitcher of sangria ($24), tequila (Fresco offers
flights for $8 and up) or a draft of Dos Equis Amber ($4.50), even if The Most
Interesting Man in the World would never drink it out of a Miller Lite glass.
Out of the bottle definitely, a coconut shell probably, a conch shell maybe,
even his boot under exigent circumstances, but not a Miller Lite glass.
We’re swept away by the great food, one pleasant surprise after the next.
Guacamole ($7.95) may not be prepared tableside, but it’s a beautifully balanced
combination of luscious avocado, tomato, onion, cilantro, freshly squeezed lime
juice and sea salt served with housemade tortilla chips. Imparting a slow spice
burn, a chicken tortilla soup ($4.95) brims with shredded chicken, softening
tortilla fragments and pungent fresh cilantro.