Inventive tacos, killer burritos, grilled watermelon, and craft beer – what’s not to love? For this week’s CD, make sure to bring your appetite for a memorable Vermont spin on Mexican food – and, because this is New England, plenty of interesting beer – at White River Junction’s Trail Break Taps and Tacos.
At the (wait for it) junction of the White and Connecticut rivers separating the Green Mountain State from the Live Free or Die state of New Hampshire, White River Junction, Vermont, is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tiny but charming downtown with a dense number of great restaurants per capita. With just a bridge separating it from Hanover, NH and its best known landmark, Dartmouth College, as well as serving as a gateway to year-round outdoor sports in Vermont’s Green Mountains, it’s easy to see why White River Junction and Trail Break can attract a crowd.
The name is pretty spot on – highlighting its menu fare and thematic bent. Straightforward, yet so understated. Step inside the corrugated metal and wood structure, and you’re transported (back!?) to your ski lodge. Vintage ski lifts, blond wood, trail signs, and kegs fill the inviting dining space. It’s not exactly going for comfort, but it certainly is fun.
With 28 rotating New England beers on tap and a healthy stock of diverse bottles and cans from across the US (and Belgium), Trail Break has apres ski covered. On each of my visits, my colleagues and I tried a variety of beers – they serve full beers or 5 oz. pours to sample or create your own beer flight. Even the most discerning beer connoisseur will find something to love at Trail Break – from New England’s signature Pale Ales or IPAs to a fruity Gose or thick stout. If wine or cocktails strike your fancy, Trail Break also features a number of unique cocktails, like the WaterLEMon Gnargarita (yes, that’s how they list it) – a summery jalapeño-infused watermelon lemonade margarita, or a mole Old Fashioned. If booze is not in your cards, they have a number of refreshing aqua frescas, housemate horchata, and local sodas.
Once your thirst is quenched, soak it up with some really twisted, very American versions of your favorite Mexican classics – served in very healthy American portions. Come prepared with your best appetite. Vegetarians and vegans will not be disappointed, as a number of options are already veg friendly, but others can be made so by substituting jackfruit for any other protein. In fact, a suspicious number of their burritos and tacos feature tater tots – these aren’t your typical frozen Ore-Ida version but are house made. Sidebar, for my international readers, I can’t imagine how bizarre the name “tater tots” must sound to you all – if you have a similarly beloved item with a name that is a cutesy butchering of the an ingredient’s name, please share in the comments. You also might find popcorn decorating your dish there as well.
For appetizers, if you have a large group, you can’t go wrong with the Smoky, Spicy, Sweet – a tray crowded with their tortilla chips, house charred salsa, pickled pineapple salsa (the sweet), and roasted Serrano guacamole. All three were on point, and both of my groups oohed and ahhed at the consistent, unexpectedly awesome quality of each of the three. While I couldn’t pick a favorite, several of my colleagues purchased containers of the charred house salsa to go – freezing them before transporting them in their checked luggage on a flight back home several days later. I’m told the salsa pairs especially well with homemade breakfast burritos even a week later. You could also order their nachos – charmingly served as two trays in succession – supposedly to prevent soggy nachos in the typical pile – but it’s so much food, we never had the stomachs to try it, when there were so many other fantastic options. Maybe some day in the future!
Trail Break’s “vertical eats” (burritos) are certainly not predictably stuffed, including the aptly named (not so) standard, which includes shredded chicken and tater tots. Quesadillas – “tacky tortillas” come in several options, notably the “Big Crusty” – an inside-out steak quesadilla topped with a special “Dorito” dust. On both visits, I was excited to sample some of their great “horizontal eats” or tacos. One of the best meal options – especially if you are a traveler wanting to try as many of their unusual flavor profiles – is the three tacos and a side deal. I will caution anyone that the tacos are fairly large in size, so three add up very quickly. But the sides are worth eating – even if you compose your meal a la carte. Taco options include plenty of carnivorous fare from land – the grilled (shredded chicken), roasted (pork), or seared (carne asada); sea – the chilled (ahi tuna), sizzled (shrimp), blackened (mahi mahi), or fried (cornmeal crusted haddock); or earth – the stewed (black beans and tater tots) or low maintenance (jackfruit). Sides include their street corn (also available in a larger portion as an appetizer), chili dusted watermelon – a favorite of my colleagues, fried sweet plantains, or sweet potato-chickpea hash.
I tried the grilled, the seared, the stewed, and the chilled during my two visits, and I couldn’t miss the plantains (a favorite, or weakness of mine, depending how you look at it). I also tried the “howzit” salad- which is a great way to get your greens in while trying the grilled watermelon. I couldn’t pick a favorite, but I was dismayed at how quickly my stomach filled up and could not even finish two tacos on each visit (granted, I did eat more than my share of guac and salsa).
Trail Break offers only one dessert – tres leches cake, which is not insignificant. But how would you have any room left after all of these other great menu items?
Each of my experiences at Trail Break brought colleagues closer together by sharing a fun, quirky, and satisfying meal at Trail Break. I’d really love it if they exported it about 500 miles south… If you find yourself passing through or near the Vermont/New Hampshire border, make sure to stop at Trail Break.