Los Angelenos may snub their noses at any Mexican-food scene that’s not their own but the best tacos in NYC are here to prove them wrong. Whether you’re trying out one of the city’s best Mexican restaurants or looking for some cheap eats at one of New York’s most beloved food courts, these are the best tacos NYC has to offer.
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Best tacos in NYC, ranked
Small, from-scratch corn tortillas puff up on the grill like blowfish at this West Coaster–approved Chelsea Market taco counter, easing down before they’re piled with superbly juicy adobada pork: The red-chili-marinated pig is trimmed shawarma-style from a glistening spit, its natural sweetness jacked up with shards of pineapple and a squirt of lime.
Olvera’s elegant, high-gear small plates—pristine, pricey and as market-fresh as anything coming out of Thomas Keller’s kitchen—more than fills that gap in New York dining. It steamrolls right over it. Tacos make a solitary appearance on the menu in an atypically generous portion of duck carnitas, cooked to the sinful midpoint of unctuous fat and seared flesh.
Chef-owner Alex Stupak slowly cooks brined pork tongue with bacon, chorizo, onions and a slug of Negra Modelo. The meat is coated with the reduced braising liquid and drizzled with a fiery chile de arbol salsa, while slivers of raw onion, roasted fingerling potatoes and queso fresco balance the protein's rich, spicy flavors.
Despite the kitschy delight of eating takeaway tacos off a knee-balanced plate at Rockaway Taco, the sit-down setup at this offshoot, housed inside the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, is a much-welcome upgrade. Just like at that OG taco shack, chef Andrew Field is fueling off-duty surfers and beach-bound locals with exemplary beer-battered fish tacos ($3.50) and watermelon juices ($4), but Tacoway boasts one major feature its forebear was missing: alcohol.
Some of the best Mexican restaurants in town use the tortillas made at this factory. Go straight to the source everyday, when Nixtamal's small café offers al pastor tacos: marinated pork butt roasted on an outdoor spit. The juicy slices are topped with pineapple and cilantro and folded into a house-made tortilla.
Denisse Lina Chavez, known around these parts at the Queen of Carnitas, moved her cramped bodega–cum–taqueria from the south Bronx to central Brooklyn with this 32-seat Prospect Heights successor. Inside the cheery space–decorated with bright-green stools and pineapple-painted walls–find the central Mexican specialties that Chavez built her reputation on: The chef nixtamalizes blue corn via a Jalisco-imported custom masa machine to make tortillas, which hug everything from chicken tinga to chorizo to, yes, those juicy, immensely porky carnitas.
La Esquina's sit-down café and takeout taqueria offer a number of dependable bites, but we particularly like its straightforward treatment of fish—a hunk of grilled mahi-mahi, speared with a skewer and brightened with shredded cabbage and salsa verde.
At this narrow East Village takeout taqueria, owner Matthew La Rue (the Meatball Shop) shaves off quivering, yielding bites of blistered, spit-roasted pork for his al pastor taco, stacked high on house-pressed corn tortillas with chopped onions and optional dollops of smooth guacamole and morita-chili salsa.
California native Otto Cedeno doles out pitch-perfect tacos at this 13-seat joint lined with rustic wooden panels and white subway tiles. During slower daytime hours, insiders can request this off-menu, battered monstrosity (it's named after a monster from Greek mythology). One house masa tortilla is pressed and then deep-fried before receiving a generous filling of boisterous carne asada, guacamole, spiced crema, onions and cilantro.
You won't need Spanish skills to gobble down $2.50 carnitas (pork seasoned with garlic, thyme and oregano) and garlicky, lime-marinated beef tacos at this tiny, fast-paced Mexican bodega. The two-layer tacos are easy for little ones to handle, as are the sopes (thick cornmeal tortillas) topped with cheese, beans and whatever meat you fancy. Work your way to the back of the store to find a handful of stools to eat at, or if weather permits, enjoy your feast at the Hell's Kitchen playground right across the street.
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La Avenida's charming East Harlem neighborhood is precisely the area where you might expect to find great cuisines unhindered by the hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan. Once inside, every employee from the bartender to the waiter in the back will politely drop what they’re doing and salute you in a way that makes you feel like you’re being welcomed into a friend’s home. Once you’re seated, you’ll find that this warm reception is an example of the restaurant's excellent customer service and not a false attempt at inclusiveness. The menu of traditional Latin American favorites dovetails nicely with the restaurant's homey, neighborhood feel. If you’re looking for authentic ceviche de camaron ($14), then you must try La Avenida's. Shrimp are combined with grilled pineapple, avocado, corn, red onion, cucumber, huitlacoche and poblano and chiltepin peppers, then served in a margarita glass. Though the ceviche has a strong seafood flavor, it's not overpowering. The pollo al horno ($15) is another standout. Warm and succulent, the oven-roasted chicken breast mingles beautifully with silky mashed potatoes. If you’re not impressed yet, you must finish your meal with the citrus flan ($9.) This pan-traditional Latin American desert or postre has the flavor and texture of typical flan, but with an unexpected kick of citrus fruit that leaves you craving more. You can round out the meal with an affordable glass of red Malbec ($9), a spicy michelada ($7) or one of the restaurant's many