My Mexican father used to sit at the dinner table eating raw jalapeños whole. Just before we all gathered, he'd carefully wash one or two of these verdant beauties and lay them beside his plate, atop a series of napkins presciently placed to catch the inevitable stream of sweat that would soon ensue. No matter what we were eating - be it my mama's Southern fried chicken or a heaping plate of frijoles y arroz - he never failed to bring his penchant for spice, the flavors of home, to the table.
The tacos at Trail Break come a la carte so you can mix and match flavors to suit everyone's tastes
Since moving to Vermont last spring, I, too, have been in search of the flavors of home. I've scoured the local shops for smoky salsas that deliver heat and flavor in equal measure. I've gazed longingly at cuts of beef and pork, envisioning them seasoned to perfection and piled atop corn tortillas, magically transformed into carne asada or tacos al pastor.
Denver, Colorado, my home for the past 23 years, seemed to have a taqueria on every corner, little family-run joints where, for $5, you could sink your teeth into three tacos so expertly composed that the combination of soft corn, crispy meat, homemade salsa, diced onions, and thinly-sliced cilantro would almost make you weep with pleasure. Wash it all down with an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola or a house-made horchata, and you'd swear that somehow, between your first bite and the last, you'd crossed the border.
I've tried re-creating those tacos in my own kitchen, but can never quite achieve that blissful, close-your-eyes-and-sigh amalgamation of sweet and savory, spicy and sinfully-good. Then I ate the roasted pork taco at Trail Break Taps + Tacos in White River Junction, and my local search was over.
The roasted pork taco - six bites of pure taco perfection
The pork taco, listed on the menu as the "roasted," is simple: tender pork, pickled red onion, lime crema, cotija cheese, and micro cilantro, all evenly spaced on top of a soft corn tortilla. Simple as the ingredients are, the flavors that emerge are anything but. Every bite reveals layers of complex chemistry, smoky and sour and creamy and fresh all at once. The key, of course, is the meat, which is obviously lovingly, and slowly, tended. The result: crispy edges yielding to tender, sweet bits with just enough fat to maximize flavor without feeling greasy.
It's the dance of disparate elements that makes all the tacos at Trail Break work, from the seared carne asada with grilled serrano guac to the chorizo-spiced sushi grade ahi tuna with avocado. Perhaps the most surprising pairing on the taco menu comes from the blend of tortilla crusted fried ocean perch with a rhubarb balsamic jelly and micro greens. It's crispy, sweet, and fresh in just the right amounts. The tacos aren't traditional, strictly speaking, but the best elements of traditional Mexican food are there - high-quality ingredients and an interplay between rich flavors and fresh ones, between depth and lightness.
The fried ocean perch taco with rhubarb balsamic jelly and mixed micro green salad is a unique twist on the traditional Baja fish taco
As good as they are, the tacos aren't the only winners on the menu. Trail Break Owner Topher Lyons and Chef Dennis Marcoux have created a food concept and an atmosphere that sing. Pairing Lyons' craft beer know-how with Marcoux's obvious talent for coaxing and melding flavors, they've achieved a unique hybrid of Latin-infused goodness: think Mexican Taqueria meets Baja Burrito joint with a generous dose of Vermont magic - great beer and a love of all things outdoors.
Two of Trail Break's signature cocktails: the WaterLEMon Gnargarita and the fUSTER cLUCK sangria
Trail Break offers straight up comfort-food burritos, a cocktail, beer, and non-alcoholic drink menu for every palate, inspired vegetarian eats, unique starters, and sides - like the street corn drenched in a spicy aioli - with enough of a flavor profile to stand on their own. The chips are crispy and arrive just-out-of-the fryer warm, sturdy and salty enough to accompany the grilled serrano guac, house-charred salsa, and coconut salsa verde that arrive alongside. Top all of that off with expert servers like Clint Hobbs, who manages to hustle and remain utterly attentive, while still having fun, and you've got a home-run, even when home is miles away.