Taco tune-up: The best new tacos in New York City

In the midst of a Mexican-food renaissance, Gotham gets knockout new tacos at mescal-soaked cantinas, alfresco food stands and mom-and-pop joints.

0

Comments

Add +

New York rules the roost on pizza and bagels, but it’s always been the underdog to the taco titans of the West Coast. Until now—Gotham’s seen a wave of fresh Mexican joints in the past year, and with the much-welcome proliferation come superlative new takes on that tortilla-wrapped staple. Whether you’re looking to satisfy your Mexican-food hankering or gearing up for Dia de los Muertos, here’s where to find the best new tacos in New York City.


  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Adobada taco at Los Tacos No. 1

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Cactus taco at Los Tacos No. 1

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Chicken tacos at Los Tacos No. 1

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Los Tacos No. 1

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Al pastor taco at Sembrado

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Cecina taco at Sembrado

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Costilla taco at Sembrado

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Chorizo taco at Sembrado

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Beef taquito (classic-style) at Taquitoria

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Chicken taquito (cheesy-style) at Taquitoria

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Taquitoria

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Pork tacos at Country Boys

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    Chicharrón taco at Country Boys

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Al pastor taco at Taqueria Diana

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Pollo taco at Taqueria Diana

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Steak asada, al pastor and pollo tacos at Taqueria Diana

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Taqueria Diana

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    Smoked pulled chicken taco at Tres Carnes

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    Smoked pulled chicken taco at Tres Carnes

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    Smoked pulled chicken taco at Tres Carnes

  • Photograph: Michael Rudin

    Brussels sprout taco at Empellón Cocina

  • Photograph: Michael Rudin

    Carnitas taco at Empellón Cocina

  • Photograph: Michael Rudin

    Pineapple lardo taco at Empellón Cocina

  • Photograph: Michael Rudin

    Brisket taco at Tacotown

  • Photograph: Michael Rudin

    El Diablito taco at El Diablito Taqueria

  • Photograph: Michael Rudin

    Fish taco at El Diablito Taqueria

Photograph: Filip Wolak

Adobada taco at Los Tacos No. 1

Los Tacos No.1

The setup: This West Coaster–approved newcomer—a Chelsea Market counter outfitted with Mexican Coca-Cola signs and hefty jugs of horchata—comes from three Pacific Shore lads: Tijuana native Christian Pineda, and Tyler Sanders and Kyle Cameron of Brawley, California.
The style: The street-cart-style, silver-dollar-sized snacks are doled out in bugle-shaped wax-paper bundles—making for easy transportation as you search for seating in the market’s cobblestoned hallways.
What to order: Small, from-scratch corn tortillas puff up on the grill like blowfish, easing down before they’re piled with al dente hunks of grilled cactus ($2.50) or superbly juicy adobada pork ($3): The red-chili–marinated pig is trimmed from a glistening spit, its natural sweetness jacked up with lime and pineapple shards. 212-256-0343, lostacos1.com

  1. Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave, (between 15th and 16th Sts), 10011
More info

Sembrado

The setup: A boozy sibling to Hecho en Dumbo, Danny Mena’s rustic, brick-walled taqueria  is kitted out with a white-and-green-tiled bar featuring an ample selection of mescal.
The style: Mena’s meat-heavy taco menu focuses on al pastor (cooked on a traditional trompo spit) and al carbon (on the grill), inspired by the simple roadside wraps he grew up eating in his native Mexico City.
What to order: Armed with a golf pencil, tick off your preferred style (pastor versus carbon) and fillings on the checklist menu. For the refreshingly minimal two-biters, the soft, house-made corn tortillas are filled with primal grill-charred carne like pepper-flecked nubs of cecina (salt-cured steak, $4) and chili-rubbed pork-belly chorizo ($4). Doctor the bare-bones parcels with something from the with something from the four-sauce carousel, which includes a sinus-clearing serrano-and-vinegar salsa. 212-729-4206, sembradonyc.com

  1. 432 E 13th St, (between First Ave and Ave A ), 10009
More info

Taquitoria

The setup: The graffiti-tagged snack shack welcomes Lower East Siders with blaring ’90s alt rock and enthusiastic high fives from owners Brad Holtzman, Barry Frish and Matthew Conway (vets of Restaurant Marc Forgione).
The style: Taquitos (three for $5, five for $8)—a staple in Conway’s native San Diego—are the focus of this single-dish spot. The tubelike rolled tacos are done up à la “classic” (with guacamole, lettuce and cotija),“cheesy” (gooey nacho cheese, sour cream and pickled jalapeño relish) or “chronic” (the works).
What to order: Twice-fried yellow-corn cigars give way to soft, succulent meat fillings. For the chicken variety, Frish braises a Bell & Evans bird in a Bloody Mary mix, lending a healthy hit of horseradish and mustard seed, while the top-notch beef—a moist blend of Creekstone Farms eye of round and short rib—finds delicious foils in salty cotija and homemade chili-garlic sauce. 212-780-0121, taquitoria.com

  1. 168 Ludlow St, (between E Houston and Stanton Sts), 10002
More info

Country Boys

The setup: The brick-and-mortar offshoot of the beloved Red Hook antojito truck, this South Slope corner restaurant is rigged like an abuela’s kitchen: pale-pink Formica counters, plastic-wrapped tablecloths and Spanish-dubbed flicks on an old, buzzing TV.
The style: Puebla-born husband-and-wife owners Fernando and Yolanda Martinez turn out the humble tacos (two for $7) that won them a 2009 Vendy Award.
What to order: Upgrading from the truck’s prefab tortillas, the masa rounds here are patted by hand and warmed on the griddle, arriving with delicately blackened, oil-licked edges. Swine is the way to go, with a standout spicy pork variety—fired with a sun-dried red-chili salsa and tempered with bright pico de gallo—and a supreme chicharróns taco, packed with fried-yet-fatty rinds that butt against creamy guac and crisp lettuce shreds. 718-452-6079, countryboysfood.weebly.com

  1. 568 Fourth Ave, (at 16th St), 11215
More info

Taqueria Diana

The setup: This narrow East Village takeout taqueria—emblazoned with a street-art rendering of the fictional, sombrero-sporting Diana—squeezes in a nose-high counter and three tiny tables next to a steamy back kitchen.
The style: Shuffled out on paper-lined steel trays, the West Coast–style tacos ($3–$3.50 each) are inspired by the Mission food trucks that owner Matthew La Rue (the Meatball Shop) grew up with in San Francisco.
What to order: From a hulking spit visible behind the counter, La Rue shaves off quivering, yielding bites of blistered pork for his al pastor taco, piled high on house-pressed corn tortillas with chopped onions and optional dollops of smooth guacamole and morita-chili salsa. The flavorful chicken version features a double dose of poultry: Along with the moist meat—plucked from a rotisserie bird—the taco is topped with fried bits of skin. 646-422-7871, taqueriadiana.com

  1. 129 Second Ave between St. Marks Pl and E 7th St

Tres Carnes

The setup: Lunchtime lines wind through this quick-service eatery, an industrial cement-and-wood corner space. A smattering of barstooled tables hug a mural-painted wall, designed by art duo Sheryo x the Yok.
The style: Mike Rodriguez—who stoked the pits at legendary Driftwood, Texas, barbecue joint the Salt Lick—mans the grill, scorching Lone Star-style proteins for South-meets–South of the Border fusion tacos.
What to order: The aptly named restaurant features three meaty fillings: moist smoked chicken, kissed with sweet paprika and cumin ($8.04); tender, dry-rubbed pulled pork butt amped up with tart pickled onions ($8.04); and a 16-hour-cooked low-and-slow brisket ($8.73), infused with a campfire gusto that pairs tastily with a topping of smoky-sweet roasted corn. 212-989-8737, trescarnes.com

  1. 688 Sixth Ave, (at 22nd St), 10010
More info

Empellón Cocina

The setup: Alex Stupak’s electric East Village cantina delivers au courant Mexican plates in digs to match—the sleek black-and-cream space showcases a dark-blue bird mural behind the bar and contemporary Day of the Dead–inspired paintings in the dining room.
The style: The always outspoken Stupak once swore he would never serve tacos at his East Village hot spot, but then changed his mind, declaring entrées “boring” and doing away with mains altogether for his fine-dining reimaginings of the street snack.
What to order: At most taquerias, carne-centric fillings rule the menu. The terrific carnitas here, zipped up with salsa verde marmalade, are no slouch (although the short-rib pastrami is an unfortunate mash-up flop). But it’s the whimsical vegetarian offerings that steal the show: In one offering, bright yellow pineapple batons get a light porky touch from a blanket of silky lardo and earthiness from achiote—an elegant remix of the old Hawaiian combo. In another, the nutty sweetness of charred brussels sprouts is teased out by a musky almond mole, all folded into soft flour tortillas. 212-780-0999, empellon.com

  1. 105 First Ave, (between 6th and 7th Sts), 10003
More info

Tacotown

The setup: BrisketTown’s smoked-meat pro, Daniel Delaney, puts a tortilla-wrapped spin on his acclaimed ’cue at this taco pop-up, running through October 25 at Flatiron’s alfresco market Madison Sq. Eats.
The style: Riffing on BrisketTown’s popular breakfast tacos, the booth hawks Austin-style Tex-Mex tacos ($5 each), with Delaney’s acclaimed barbecue loaded onto flour tortillas.
What to order: The tough fried chicken will send you straight to the dentist’s office, but you can’t go wrong with the pit-smoked red meat. A liberal topping of fresh cilantro and red-onion relish livens up Delaney’s white-oak-fired brisket, while soft, unctuous pulled pork—dressed in its own fatty juices—gets some contrasting crunch with red cabbage and crispy chicharrón bits. delaneybbq.com

  1. Broadway at 25th St

El Diablito Taqueria

The setup: Owners Clara Melchor and cousins Eric and Modesto Perez (Pampano) pack in Crayola-bright string banners, peppy mariachi tunes and mismatched tables at this tiny East Village spot.
The style: The fold-ups range from Mexico City street-food creations (carnitas, carne asada) to California crowd-pleasers, packed with grilled shrimp and battered fish.
What to order: The tongue-tingling house special ($2.95) is padded with paprika-laden chorizo, roasted poblano peppers and potent salsa árbol. But it’s the Baja-fresh fish taco ($2.95) that’s the real star of the menu: The tempura-fried crust shatters around flaky tilapia, with lime-infused crema adding richness and red cabbage echoing the batter’s crunch. 646-692-9268

  1. 60 E 3rd St between First and Second Aves


Users say

0 comments

Food & Drink events calendar

  1. Feast of San Gennaro

    Celebrate the martyred 3rd-century bishop and patr...

  2. Harvest in the...

    The 19th annual tasting brings together 40 Union S...

  3. The Joy of Sake

    Choose from more than 300 sakes to pair with conte...

1 more event »

Time Out videos



Tweets by Time Out NY

Subscribe to Time Out New York on Spotify for playlists and recommendations from our Music team.

Check out New York's best restaurants, hottest street style, cool apartments and more.