Aman Bhola brought home more than souvenirs and snapshots from a trip to Texas.
Bhola returned to Long Island with such a taste for tacos de birria like the ones he ate at a roadside stand in Austin that he developed his own recipe for his pair of Taco Island family-run takeout spots in Mt. Sinai and Farmingville.
“I knew I just had to fly back home and start working on this recipe,” the 30-year-old Mt. Sinai man said. “Once I figured out my version of it, then I started in on how to perfect it.”
The result is laid out in the slogan for Taco Island: Serving the best damn tacos on Long Island.
And yes, the menu highlights tacos de birria — which feature melted mozzarella, onion and cilantro over barbacoa or carnitas stuffed into a tortilla — and which Bhola said are drawing in aficionados from across Long Island.
Other variations include Mexican street tacos, fish tacos, shrimp tacos, avocado tacos and a classic taco on a flour tortilla.
“Our tacos are delicious, you won’t find anything like them,” he said. “We have customers coming in from Queens, from Shirley, from Southampton, just to have the food that we serve.”
Taco Island Mexican Cantina, which opened in Farmingville in late November, is the latest addition to a trio of Bhola’s food businesses, which he launched in 2017 when the Taco Island food truck hit the road.
Bhola said the 26-seat Farmingville outpost on North Ocean Avenue will have a liquor license by February, the outgrowth of renting out the taco truck for private parties and weddings.
“So you can have tacos and tequila,” he said. “We’re big on doing wedding business, so for that, we needed a liquor license.”
The first restaurant, known as Taco Island Tex-Mex, opened at 5507 Nesconset Highway in August 2020.
“We had a food truck following, we had a great following in Port Jefferson, Mt. Sinai,” Bhola said. “We were ready to get a storefront.”
But getting off the ground during the pandemic was no easy task.
“We had a motivation to serve our clients,” Bhola said. “And even though COVID was there, that didn’t stop me even though I couldn’t find a contractor or a painter to do the amount of work we needed.
“I had to pick up the paint myself.”
The flavors of Taco Island — which Bhola described as “true to the roots of Mexico” — are the product of his lifelong fascination with Mexican cuisine, even as he grew up in India and arrived in the United States in 2005.
”I have both cultures in my pantry and I’m proud to say I can do both,” he said. “But the business side of me told me the Mexican side will sell more than the Indian side.”
With the help of his wife, father and brother, Bhola is now finally living out part of a lifelong dream to grow in the restaurant business.
“I’ve done many other jobs to pay the bills, but that wasn’t my passion,” he said. “I was finding my way to that passion until that journey was completed.”
Taco Island Mexican Cantina is located in the Expressway Plaza at 2320 N. Ocean Ave. It is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m . and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.