International dining done right: El Tio in Port Chester

by Madeleine Harrington 

While international food has become an increasingly hot in desired restaurant destinations, the hunt for heartfelt and delicious authenticity in Westchester has always posed a challenge, even for the most dedicated of restaurant-goers.

What is the most significant requirement for authenticity in a restaurant serving international food?

Foremost, the owner, and if we’re lucky, the entire staff, and maybe, just maybe, the eatery’s surroundings, should hail from same place as the name of their restaurant and dishes. If the chef has firsthand knowledge of the food’s culture – how it is meant to be prepared – rather than an Americanized, spaghetti-with-meatballs interpretation of a country’s dishes, then the restaurant offers a more authentic eating experience.

This is why Port Chester might very well be one of Westchester’s most underrated destinations for dining out: The town is filled with Latin American restaurants, many of them owned by individuals from the eatery’s respective nationality, many of them first generation. One place that stands out is El Tio on Westchester Avenue, across from the train station, and next to the soon-to-be refurbished Capitol Theatre.

El Tio’s owner hails from Jalisco, a small town in Mexico. At El Tio Spanish is reigns; and except for a slight increase in prices, the menu has remained the same since its start 22 years ago. Whether you choose a single burrito or taco, or a platter with the works, El Tio’s modest prices and authentic vibe make it a favorite among college students and local families, creating an eclectic mix of customers. The menu consists of several pages of difficult decisions, all richly flavored and freshly prepared dishes. Start the meal with traditional chips and salsa, but make certain to order a variety of dishes to share, especially the fajitas asadas, or lime marinated steak, a favorite among both staff and this customer. No meal is complete without a bowl of fried ice cream, a dish that from personal experience, I don’t recommend sharing, because it will be gone within seconds.

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