These Places Prove That New York Does, in Fact, Have Good Tacos
It's time to debunk one of NYC's longest-held food myths
The belief that New York City’s taco scene is somehow inferior to other cities’ is a pretty widely held one, almost as common as the idea that nobody does pizza or bagels better. And while it’s generally accepted that areas like L.A. or Texas have us beat, as Johnny Rosas, the chef at Brooklyn’s Antojitos El Atoradero, points out, if you can’t find a great taco in a city of 8 million people, you’re probably just not looking hard enough.
“I think that idea that we don’t have good tacos is because we don’t border Mexico,” he tells InsideHook. “I’ve traveled a lot. I was in the military, and I’ve spent time on the West Coast. Everybody there claims they have the best tacos because they used to be part of Mexico. Same with Texas, Arizona, places like that. That’s where they get that idea. Since New York is so far, our food isn’t considered as good because it’s not from the motherland.”
Of course, what exactly constitutes the perfect taco is subjective. Some people may prefer a more modern, experimental take on the staple, while traditionalists will opt for the classic — served on two hand-rolled corn tortillas with cilantro, onions, some sliced radishes and cucumbers and a lime wedge. For Rosas, it’s all about the flavor.
“The main idea behind a perfect taco is the seasoning,” he explains. “We season everything with what the land offers. If your seasoning is good, you don’t need much else, just cilantro and onions.”
Because his taqueria handles the food at the Parklife bar in Gowanus, down the street from the Union Hotel, Rosas says he gets a lot of out-of-towners who come in skeptical about what they’ll find.
“People from Houston or cities like that at the hotel, they think they have the best tacos, and then they taste my food and they say, ‘Oh my god!’ Supposedly they know all about authentic Mexican food, but sometimes they still ask to put tomatoes on their tacos.”
Ultimately, when it comes to New York’s taco scene, the old “if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere” cliché rings true. As Rosas says with a laugh, “Anybody can throw meat in a tortilla and call it a taco.” But to stand out is something else entirely.
“People don’t see the competition,” he says. “In New York, you gotta have the best of everything. If you walk down the streets, there are tacos everywhere, and if you’re not one of the best, you’re going to be out of business. It’s all about the competition. That’s one thing that drives everyone in New York.”
So if you’re looking for the best, we’ve got you covered — here are some of the finest tacos you’ll find around the five boroughs.
308 Willis Ave., The Bronx
This Mott Haven restaurant’s Oaxacan menu extends far beyond their tacos — absolutely try one of their moles while you’re there — but they still rank among the city’s finest. They offer all the usual suspects like carnitas, bistec and chorizo, but their carne enchilada tacos are a must. Beyond serving up delicious food, La Morada’s Natalia Mendez and her family have become pillars of the community, advocating for immigration reform and hosting weekly information sessions to help undocumented New Yorkers learn their rights.
636 Degraw St., Brooklyn
Antojitos El Atoradero, famous for its tasty blue corn tortillas, is above all else a family affair. It started when Rosas’s mother, the acclaimed chef Denisse Lina Chavez, opened El Atoradero Grocery in the South Bronx. He helms the kitchen now in Gowanus, but he remains devoted to his mother’s recipes. The location at Parklife has proven to be a perfect pairing: Who doesn’t want to scarf down a few tacos after a night of drinking? You can’t go wrong with any of their offerings, but the carnitas is a fan favorite.
4324 4th Ave., Brooklyn
This Sunset Park staple — the brick-and-mortar location as well as the famed taco truck that parks at 37th St. and 5th Ave. — serves up tacos pequeños, which is good, because you’re going to want to shove as many into your face as you can. With 14 varieties on the menu, you’ll have plenty to choose from, but if you’re a tripe fan, theirs is the stuff of legend. (Rosas cites Tacos El Bronco’s tripe as his favorite taco in the city outside of his own restaurant. “There’s something about that truck, man,” he says.)
75 9th Ave., Manhattan
This street-style Chelsea Market taqueria (as well as its Times Square and Tribeca locations) tends to get crowded, particularly during the lunch rush, but the tacos are absolutely worth the wait. Its founders hail from Tijuana and California, so those who remain skeptical of New York City tacos can rest assured that they’re the real deal. Their adobada tacos are the way to go; wash them down with some of their refreshing aguas frescas.
706 4th Ave., Brooklyn
Tucked in the back of a grocery, El Tenampa is a hidden gem that carries on the great tradition of the bodega taqueria. It’s fully equipped with an al pastor spit and a salsa bar where you can load up on pickled jalapeños, sliced radishes and whatever else your heart desires. There’s not a bad taco on their menu, but you can’t go wrong with the barbacoa de chivo or the suadero.
234 E. 116th St., Manhattan
This East Harlem favorite has rapidly expanded, recently opening locations in Queens and the Lower East Side. It makes sense; you won’t find a better al pastor taco in town. But if al pastor’s not your thing (and if it isn’t, we need to have a talk), they also offer carnitas, tinga, pollo asado, fish, barbacoa and vegetarian options.
271 Starr St., Brooklyn
All the best tacos start with a great tortilla, so it makes sense that this Bushwick tortilla factory would be serving up some of the city’s finest right in its delivery dock. Their chorizo is one of their most popular tacos, but honestly, the smells alone in this place make it worth the trip as the aroma of toasted corn hangs in the air while you eat.
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