Taco Steve tacos

The fare at Taco Steve | Photo by Kevin Gibson

For a number of years, I could always count on Steve Powell to bring me a beer when I stopped in at New Albanian Brewing Co. Now, I can count on Powell to serve up some darn tasty Mexican food.

In June 2015, Powell set out into the local dining scene by way of a mobile taco cart under the name Taco Steve. He would park the cart around downtown New Albany and sell his street tacos — sometimes it was lunchtime by the courthouse, and just as often it was late-night in front of Hugh E. Bir’s. And it all came about after he had started working at another local pub, the now defunct Connor’s Place.

“I would always gaze out the window and say, ‘Man, I would rather be outside,’” he recalls.

His idea for a taco truck would enable that wish to come true, but his choice to do Mexican food was a bit more random. A former roommate had a knack for the cuisine, it turns out.

Chipotle chicken burrito at Taco Steve. Photos by Kevin Gibson.

Chipotle chicken burrito at Taco Steve. Photos by Kevin Gibson.

“His ability to create Mexican food out of seemingly thin air was really impressive,” Powell says. “We room-mated for a while, I ate lot of his food, and I think that’s what inspired me.”

Late last year, he had the idea to rent kitchen space in the back of Destinations Booksellers, located at 604 E. Spring St., where a coffee bar had once been, as a place to prepare his food for the cart. When he approached the owners, they informed him they had already been interested in having him serve his tacos in the shop.

“It was sort of serendipitous,” Powell says.

He moved in and opened in December; he has since expanded his menu and is looking at further growth.

“I want to do a fish taco,” he says, “but it’s been hard to find affordable fish that isn’t produced in China. I won’t buy that stuff.”

And so, fish tacos likely are not far away from joining a concise menu that currently features pork verde, chipotle chicken and chorizo tacos, burritos and quesadillas, as well as fresh-made guacamole. But it started just as tacos, and he was buying his meat pre-cooked (smoked, actually) from Shawn’s Southern BBQ, just a few blocks away from his current location.

In the new space, Powell has an oven he says “will cook just about anything” where he now prepares the meat himself. It started with just tacos and now-discontinued chicken wings, but adding burritos turned the tide.

“It was a game-changer for me,” he says.

Powell takes plenty of care in what he serves. I watched him put together a chipotle chicken burrito for me — which took some convincing, since I am a taco fiend — and it’s clear he’s serious about what he does and how he does it.

For each burrito, he starts with black bean paste, followed by a brown rice seasoned with a bit of Moroccan spice, adding an interesting (however subtle) licorice-like sweetness to the other, more savory ingredients. The chipotle chicken is marinated and hand pulled, then topped with a variety of of other ingredients, from shredded cheddar to a cotija cheese blend to picante to fresh slices of jalapeno pepper.

"Taco" Steve Powell builds a tasty burrito.

“Taco” Steve Powell builds a tasty burrito.

Served on a white plate (unless you get it to go, obviously), my burrito was then topped with cilantro and a dollop of picante salsa. The result is a mildly spiced, multi-textured burrito that took me two lunchtimes to finally finish off.

While I was dining, a couple showed up for lunch and ordered guacamole, followed by a round of tacos. The gentleman remarked to Powell that it was “some of the best I’ve had.”

And then, when Powell walked past me with their tacos, I had to do a double-take. He treats his street tacos much like he does his burritos, with fresh jalapeno slices on top. Looked to me like the only thing missing was the rice and the black bean paste.

Sometimes there are daily specials — for instance, the day I was there, I found a small flyer next to the regular menu touting chorizo nachos as an appetizer. You can also get the black bean mash as a dip for $1.

But it’s the tacos that still are the driving force. And he still has his cart, which he will take out from time to time for special events around town.

“I have loved tacos since I was a kid,” he says. “Who doesn’t?”

At Taco Steve, guacamole is $4, tacos are $4 each, quesadillas are $7, and burritos are $8. He also serves a variety of Jones sodas and other canned drinks. Hours are Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., as well as dinner Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday hours are noon-9 p.m., and orders can be made on site or called in at 812-670-6463.