An authentic taste of central Mexico — in Pawtucket

Fermin Fuentes, left, and his nephew Nacho Fuentes wait on customers at Tacos Don Nacho in Pawtucket, R.I.
Fermin Fuentes, left, and his nephew Nacho Fuentes wait on customers at Tacos Don Nacho in Pawtucket, R.I.

One in a series on iconic

New England eateries.

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Food trucks weren’t all the rage when Nacho Fuentes opened his roadside Mexican kitchen here nine years ago. So he had to try a little harder to get attention. At first glance, Tacos Don Nacho looks as if someone has corralled an Old West chuck wagon and parked it inside a chain-link fence enclosure. The faux chuck wagon with log-like brown wood siding is “pulled” by a single prancing stallion, complete with a mustachioed mannequin rider.

But Fuentes doesn’t take his eatery on the road. (The horse is as fake as its rider.) Diners come to him for authentic Mexican food along with a dose of kitschy good fun. Fuentes hails from the central Mexican city of Pachuca, about 60 miles northeast of Mexico City. His menu, which is based on family recipes, is full of the tastes of home. But don’t ask Nacho for his favorite dish. They’re all good, he’ll say. And his son, also Nacho, and his brother Fermin — both of whom help run the stand — will concur, though the younger Nacho hazards a guess that Tacos Don Nacho might be best known for its quesadillas.

The plates at Tacos Don Nacho are so inexpensive that it’s easy to work your way through the menu to find your favorites. That quesadilla is a substantial meal in itself. Generous helpings of cheese and meat — a choice of grilled chicken, sausage, beef tongue, or roast pork — are sandwiched between two 10-inch tortillas. The quesadilla is quickly grilled until the cheese melts and sticks it all together. It’s served cut into quarters with a side salad of lettuce, tomato, and avocado drizzled with a sour cream dressing.

David Lyon for the boston globe
Sit at a picnic table and enjoy a tamale plate, a quesadilla and fruit-flavored sodas — everything in the Mexican style.

Those same meat choices are available for tacos, thick sandwiches called tortas, and tostadas (crisp tortillas). There’s also a Veracruz-style shrimp seviche served on a tostada, and — of course — nachos, made in the Mexican style with grilled meat, beans, red and green chiles, melted cheese, and a salad topping. Our favorite dish is probably the steamed tamales. They are just fluffy enough that the scent of corn masa (the dough made with limed corn) fills the air when you break the surface with a fork, and not so fluffy that they seem insubstantial. The stewed chicken filling is a perfect counterpoint to the masa. For extra seasoning, Tacos Don Nacho provides both a very piquant green chile sauce based on serrano peppers and a tangy, smoky pico de gallo red chile-tomato salsa.

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The largely Spanish-speaking clientele tends to choose either beef tongue or roast marinated pork to fill tacos or tortas. On the weekends, the Fuentes family usually serves menudo, or stewed tripe — a traditional Mexican hangover cure. The majority of customers pull into the eatery’s tiny parking lot to pick up food to go, but there are several freshly painted bright red picnic tables for eating on the premises. Drinks are limited to water and soft drinks, including neon-colored, fruit-flavored Jarritos sodas made in Mexico.

You place your order at the window and wait — but not for long. In time-honored chuck wagon fashion, one of the Fuenteses reaches out the window and rings the dinner bell when your food is ready.

TACOS DON NACHO 234 Barton St., Pawtucket, R.I. 401-688-2932. Daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
(or later). Dishes $1.40-$7. Cash only.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at