Tocolo Cantina

920 Old Country Rd, Garden City
(516) 222-0060 |




Tocolo Cantina might be the least typical shopping center restaurant on Long Island—and that’s a good thing. Most restaurants in shopping centers are chain operations with predictable computer generated menus. Tocolo Cantina is just the opposite. It’s an upbeat, casual, one-of-a-kind festive restaurant serving fresh, California-style Mexican food. It’s a truly modern Mexican eatery with a unique personality all its own.

Located in the Gallery at Westbury Plaza in Garden City, Tocolo is a fiesta of Latin music, loud televisions, an open kitchen, outdoor dining that spills onto the sidewalk and most of all, a creative menu that includes refreshing spins on basic Mexican dishes. Alexis Samayoa, the executive chef and co-owner sees to that. He’s a veteran big city chef who earned his culinary stripes at Manhattan’s modern Mexican venues as well as the now defunct WD-5, which was one of the most adventurous restaurants in New York.

His innovative bent is apparent from the get-go with a small bowl of guacamole Atun ($14). It packs the usual Jalapeno and cilantro yet is a bit more unusual with its topping of sliced radishes, lively Fresno chilies and a smattering of tuna accompanied by a basket of noteworthy house-made chips. The crock of warm tortillas that escorts the queso fundido ($9 to $12) are also house-made, the product of a woman in the kitchen who churns out fresh tortillas all day long. The generously portioned queso fundido is an appetizer of melted, snappy Chihuahua cheese made from cow’s milk, crowned with a centerpiece of short rib picadillo and a scattering of raisins and pine nuts. Al pastor tacos of Berkshire pork belly with charred pineapple, onions and cilantro ($15) were tasty but tough. Better was a lamb taco in the barbocoa style, bolstered by cheese and salsa ($18).

Among the house specialties was polo asado, a juicy, king-sized half chicken atop a roasted corn salad ($24). Commendable as it was, a better way to go is to sample a number of the diverse small dishes rather than filling up on a sizable main course.

Desserts to display some flair ($8). Churros are served with goat milk caramel, arroz con leche (runny rice pudding) is speckled with raisins and enhanced by passion fruit caramel and even an ordinary, mundane fruit salad boasted mint, guajillo oil and chile ancho. The tres leches cake was surprisingly dry.

Surprising too was the breakdown between the desserts and dishes that proceeded them, especially when compared to what had been swift, knowing service. Among the beverages was a very ordinary pitcher of sangria ($35) and extraordinary, remarkably rich Mexican hot chocolate ($5).

richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.