When it comes to making tacos, husband and wife John and Morgan Nealon are definitely not bound by traditional methods.
“We’re sort of bastardizing tortillas the same way we bastardize pizza in the U.S.,” says John, who owns Taco Daddy in Stamford with his wife. “In Napoli there’s like six different pizzas that you can legally make. Over here, we just do whatever the hell we want.
“What we wanted to do with our tacos was take flavors and flavor combinations that we know work really well together and just put that in a tortilla.”
This philosophy has fueled a fun, genre-bending menu at Taco Daddy that is perfect for late-night cravings, even if it will make the taco purists cringe. Opening late last year, the restaurant has taco offerings such as kung pao shrimp, brisket, mushroom marsala and spicy fried chicken with bacon. The menu is rounded out by fajitas and quesadillas, as well as must-try crunch wraps, a hard-shell taco wrapped inside a soft tortilla inspired by that well-known chain with the words “taco” and “bell” in its name.
The tortillas are mostly flour based and are more doughy and a bit thicker than a traditional corn tortilla, which works well for some of the non-traditional ingredients they are tasked with carrying. The cheeseburger taco with ground beef topped with American cheese, pickles and a ketchup-and-mayo sauce works surprisingly well, as does the crispy jerk duck. Less effective is the green chorizo taco. Not truly traditional but more so than other offerings, it feels lost between two worlds. Another dish where the mixing of flavors and cuisines didn’t mesh was the chicken scarpiello quesadilla. It tastes better without the cheese and tortilla when served over rice in the chicken scarpiello bowl.
All is forgiven on the first bite of the Crunxhwrap Suprema (that’s how they spell it). Wow. A beef-driven taco, burrito and nacho hybrid, this is fun and full of crave-inducing goodness. The crunch of the hard taco shell and the quality of the other ingredients make this a prime example of what happens when skilled chefs take good ideas from fast-food companies and execute them with skill and high-quality ingredients. Another winner is the plantain appetizer served warm with a side of sour cream.
This spring, John and Morgan brought on chef Maurice “Mo” Major as a business partner and to oversee the kitchen. Major is a veteran chef who worked at Bartaco’s Port Chester, New York, location and other Westchester restaurants, and won Food Network’s Chopped in 2015. “He’s just an over-the-top talented chef,” John says.
Major and the team’s dishes are served in an open space with indoor and outdoor seating and a fun vibe that attracts a young crowd. That vibe carries over to the drink list, which John and Morgan designed to be light and refreshing. “I’m not trying to blow your mind with an artichoke liqueur,” John says. The two cocktails I try, Call Her Daddy and Lucky Rabbit, both live up to this goal: they’re eminently drinkable.
The restaurant’s adventurous theme carries over for dessert with taco options including s’mores and Fruity Pebbles. Featuring a sweet “tortilla” stuffed with ice cream, both are fun and visually appealing sweet-tooth treats reminiscent of a sundae.
John was one of the founders of Fortina Pizza, with locations in Stamford and New York, but these days he’s only actively involved running Taco Daddy. He and Morgan plan on opening another Stamford restaurant this fall called The Lila Rose, a speakeasy cocktail and tapas bar with an over-the-top whimsical design.
During the state’s shutdown, the restaurant developed a takeout business. The couple also launched an Instagram video series called Takeout Daddy in which they review to-go orders from local restaurants. The well-watched show helped draw customers from beyond Connecticut. It isn’t the couple’s first foray into Instagram success. Prior to opening, they started an account for their dog, Dallas, a Shar Pei-and-bulldog mix, that garnered over 50,000 followers.
When Taco Daddy opened, they switched Dallas’ account to the Taco Daddy account — the move wasn’t planned, they say, but some of Dallas’ followers weren’t happy. “We got some serious hate mail,” Morgan says. “There were people messaging us from New Zealand, saying they’d been tricked into following a taco account.” They’d be less angry if they tried the Crunxhwrap.
121 Towne St., Stamford
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 10:30 a.m.-midnight, Fri. & Sat. 10:30 a.m.-1:45 a.m., Sun. 10:30 a.m.-midnight