My relationship with chain restaurants is complicated. In college, a trip to Olive Garden with my parents was a treat. Here in New York? I mock the people in the hours-long line at the Times Square OG, justifying my contempt with the standard, “There’s so much good food in New York, why would you line up to get something you can get at home?” Then again, I honestly dig the dining and drinking options at the recently-opened Hard Rock Hotel, particularly its unpretentious rooftop bar. As well, our office — all foodies at heart — will occasionally get drinks at a nearby Applebee’s, even if that’s somewhat because of proximity and the ability to seat 12 people at a moment’s notice. And several people I know have happily ventured into the Midtown Margaritaville, which you might want to visit sooner than later if it’s piqued your interest.
Why the Hard Rock Hotel Is Actually Great for NYC ResidentsStuck in Midtown? The new venue offers up a legitimately great steakhouse and an enviable rooftop bar.
Something else has also changed my mind about chain restaurants: several eye-opening subreddits (here’s one of many) where tried-and-true New Yorkers, who are surrounded by some of the country’s best pizza, still happily order Domino’s, both for nostalgic reasons and because it’s a lot cheaper. Which means that while you should support local and craft and artisanal, it’s okay to like big, loud and commercial things sometimes. All of this is a lot of buffer to my argument: Pink Taco is a welcome addition to the food scene in New York, precisely for the reasons you might hate it.
Some background: the chain was started in Nevada in 1999 by restaurateur Harry Morton, son of Hard Rock Café co-founder, Peter Morton. It offered up a rock ’n’ roll take on a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant — “this isn’t your father’s Chili’s” (or something). I visited in 2011 while slightly hungover and needing some hearty sustenance during a Vegas press trip, and I was surprised by how much I liked the food, the Margs and, yes, the merch (gifted a tee to a female friend who loved it).
The Vegas Pink Taco is gone, but the concept has branched out to a few other cities, including Boston, Miami, D.C. and West Hollywood, a location I recently visited and was immediately shamed for by an LA-based friend who demanded I find “legit tacos” (yes, I had plenty of family-run, tiny-storefront and cart tacos that week; you can do both). In May, Pink Taco came to New York. And after a couple of visits, here’s my spirited defense.
If You Have to Go to Times Square, It’s an Ideal Impromptu Meet Up Space
Have friends from out of town? Work nearby and throwing a spontaneous after-work shindig? Pink Taco is two floors and 10,519 square feet. It’s open from brunch through late night. Plus, it’s a block south and slightly hidden from the madness at 42nd Street — even that single-block buffer offers somewhat of a tourist/crowd respite. You will definitely get a table at any time, party of two or 12.
The Prices Are Surprisingly Wallet-Friendly
The burritos, taco bowls and tacos are about $13 to $20, and portions are huge. Margaritas and drinks are $14 to $15, and there’s a legitimately good weekday happy hour where you can grab, for example, two tacos and a house Marg for $19.
Again, the Food Is Pretty Solid
Queso bean dip? Street corn? Lobster enchiladas? The OG Pink Tacos themselves? I haven’t had anything bad at Pink Taco, and most of it I’d call either passable, good or even excellent. It all tastes fresh and the menu is fun but pretty straightforward, minus the Barbie-esque color tones. While I haven’t tried it, they offer brunch (or as they call it, a “Hangover Brunch”). Again, if you have friends/family staying in Midtown who aren’t feeling adventurous, I’m not gonna fault them if they want pink churro pancakes.
It’s a Frozen Strawberry Margarita served in a pineapple — what’s not to love? They also have a drinks menu that includes Mojitos, a spritz, a tequila-based Espresso Martini, a frozen guava Sangria and plenty of sippable tequila and mezcal options.
The Venue Is Kind of Instagram-able, If That’s Your Thing
While other chains in New York lean toward kitsch, Pink Taco offers lots of neon and more of an industrial vibe, with murals by Jason Ackerman of Soho Ink adorning the space (along with a skull-shaped disco ball). The food and drinks are pretty photo-friendly as well, beyond the actual OG pink taco. For example, their Paloma is served in a Squirt can and topped with a slice of pink grapefruit.
The Name Is Whatever You Want It to Be
All the way back in 2006, The Daily Show was pondering the restaurant’s name, which had caused a stir in Scottsdale, Arizona (ah, simpler times). The video is here — make up your own mind. When I’ve mentioned the place to people, they either know it and have moved beyond the moniker, or they completely miss the reference (shoutout to my female friend who called it “cute”).
Look, if I want “legitimate” tacos, I’ll walk two blocks east in my Flatbush neighborhood and go to the Tacos Mexico cart (actual name) and pay $10 in cash (plus tip) for three delicious pollo asado tacos with everything. And I have a standing list of decent Mexican places across the city (I’m partial to Taqueria in the East Village). But when I’m in/near Times Square, I’d be happy to check out Pink Taco’s “fresh, laid-back vibe.” I don’t love all their branding, but I do like $9 happy hour Margs and a colorful place to escape if I’m around 42nd Street.
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