Missing the sprightly Tex/Mex fare at Mexican Kitchen in New Paltz, which burned down last September? There’s good news for you: The process is moving along for the popular restaurant to be rebuilt on the same site, at 15 ½ North Front Street. Last weekend, owner Nick Woerner was poised to bring his plans before the Village’s Design Review Board and Historic Preservation Commission, preparatory to applying for a building permit. He has his eye on construction beginning this spring and reopening for business “hopefully September or October,” he told HV1.
Better yet, in the meantime, you can still get your fix of Oaxacan-born chef Marco García’s cooking: As of the beginning of February, he has set up a “ghost kitchen” at Woerner’s other New Paltz eatery, Smash Shack. The latter business, specializing in better-than-fast-food burgers, opened one year ago in the space next to K & E Beverages at 255 Main Street that used to house the Taco Shack, ironically enough. Now it can boast a second menu, branded as Cocina Mexicana.
According to Woerner, García was “one of the original chefs” at Mexican Kitchen under its first owner, Adam Monteverde, who sold the business to Woerner in 2021 and moved on to open Apizza. García “has been with Mexican Kitchen throughout,” and his culinary flair made the North Front Street restaurant a big hit with locals.
Wishing to “help employ some of the Mexican Kitchen employees displaced by the fire,” Woerner brought him on board to cook at Smash Shack when he wasn’t running his food truck, Marco’s Tacos, which is usually parked across from the Hannaford’s supermarket in Plattekill. But flipping burgers wasn’t meant to be García’s destiny. “It was his inspiration to bring Mexican food there,” says Woerner.
And now it’s a reality. While Smash Shack can’t replicate the Mexican Kitchen experience 100 percent, with its smaller kitchen, much of the old menu is now available uptown: nachos and other appetizers, quesadillas, tamales, tacos and burritos. (Any cravings for enchiladas or tostadas will have to wait until the new Mexican Kitchen rises from the ashes, Woerner says.) HV1 stopped by last weekend to check out the new offerings, and gave them two enthusiastic thumbs up.
For starters, García makes his own tortilla chips; they’re as light and crispy as one could wish, and not oversalted. They come with a red salsa that packs a little heat, but you can also ask for the salsa verde, which we especially loved. It’s tomatillo-forward, with a generous dash of lime. We ordered our chips with guacamole, which was freshly prepared and chunky.
Since fries alongside burgers are a staple at Smash Shack, the kitchen is well-equipped to prepare deep-fried Mexican specialties. Both the jalapeño poppers and the Baja-style fried cod used in the pescado tacos featured perfectly crispy exteriors, the batter thin, light, not too bready, served piping hot. We also liked the mole tacos, which are topped with queso fresco, the Mexican cognate of farmer cheese, along with García’s just-hot-enough mole sauce.
The tacos, served on double layers of soft corn tortillas, are small, though well-stuffed, and priced cheaply enough ($3 to $5.50 each) to mix and match to form a larger meal. Choosing among the 11 varieties is the hard part. The burritos, on the other hand, are each massive enough to serve two people or supply a leftover lunch the next day ($11 to $13.50). We tried the al pastor (pork and pineapple) and the chipotle-flavored tinga chicken. Wrapped in larger-sized soft wheat tortillas, both were yummy and bursting with rice and beans, guacamole, queso fresco, lettuce, onion, sour cream and pico de gallo salsa. There are nine types of burrito on offer, including a breakfast version, vegetarian and vegan.
Smash Shack doesn’t have a liquor license, but as Woerner points out, it’s geared for takeout orders and there’s a great big beer store right next door. To accompany your meal in-house, the beverage cooler has been stocked with a wide variety of jarritos – Mexican-style sodas – in tropical flavors like guava, pineapple and tamarind.
Another new feature that plays up the Cocina Mexicana menu is the mural by Camila Romero Castillo that now covers the east wall of the dining area: a psychedelic design of bright swirling colors that evoke alebrijes, the whimsical carved wooden animal sculptures traditional to Oaxaca, but in this case studded with pictures of burgers and fries. It definitely makes Smash Shack a more inviting place to sit and enjoy your meal. We will certainly be back.