Undiscovered New Paltz: Mexicali Blue

Southwestern/Californian style restaurant Mexicali Blue, which opened in New Paltz in December 2003, is based on a California way of thinking in terms of the use of fresh and natural ingredients in a meal. In 2012, It opened a second restaurant in Wappingers Falls. Photo by Jaleesa Baulkman.

A big pot of chicken tortilla soup bubbles away on one burner. Next to it, strips of steak sizzle over an open-flame grill. The back splash is terra cotta orange and a cheerful cobalt blue. Mexican pottery hangs on the walls and fresh pineapples stand next to rows of vinegary hot sauce.

It’s the sort of tiny taco shack that might be found by a beach in Baja. Except it’s winter in upstate New York, and this joint is miles away from any oceanic shoreline.

A small Northeastern college town like New Paltz may not come to mind when visualizing typical south-of-the-border fare – but Mexicali Blue defies expectations.

This cerulean-hued hole-in-the-wall is tucked in-between Ricci’s barbershop and Manny’s Art Supplies on Main Street. If the weather is above freezing, take your tacos to go–– with only three stools and two benches, seating’s a bit scarce. This location’s main claim-to-fame is take-out or delivery.

If you’re in the mood for a sit-down meal, head to the new location in Wappingers Falls– about a 20-minute drive from the flagship store. The 1,800 square foot restaurant has plenty of elbowroom, and serves beer and wine.

The New Paltz location may be small on space, but their menu is extensive. There are behemoth burritos in flavors like chili lime or grilled pork and pineapple. The fish tacos range from sweet and spicy, like the mango Cajun catfish, to an Asian-fusion style teriyaki tuna. Prices are above average for fast food, around $5 per taco and $10 per burrito – but Mexicali prides itself on freshness, with the slogan, “No freezers, no fryers and no cans.”

The grilled Cajun salmon taco, for example, sits on a bed of crispy cabbage, served with a wedge of lime and topped with sprigs of fresh cilantro. There are two sauces – a chipotle pesto and a lime and herb sour cream. It’s all wrapped up in two soft, warm blue corn tortillas. If you need a bit more heat, try one of their in-house made hot sauces in flavors like habanero, roasted garlic, apricot or blueberry.

Chris Nicolosi, son of store owner Sal Nicolosi, takes customer’s orders and keeps an eye on things. It’s quiet except for the occasional “How can I help you?” or “Everything okay, folks?” If you do score a seat, don’t be surprised if you’re not sitting next to a broke college student, but a cultured, adult local – these tacos are that good.

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