The taco is one of the world’s favorite foods, and with good reason: it’s tasty, nutritious and portable. And New York City has some of the best. You’ll find exemplary specimens at the City’s no-frills taquerias and stylish hot spots—some made from family recipes, others by trailblazing chefs. Read on to discover where they are; you’ll realize that this street food star is no longer a background player.
Crispy tempura shrimp tacos with chorizo and celery root rémoulade rate high on our list. They were dreamed up by Akhtar Nawab, a chef of Indian descent. After years at Gramercy Tavern and La Esquina, he opened this contemporary cantina in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights. Critics love his adventurous approach to Mexican fare. The restaurant’s other top tacos include roasted skate wing with olives, and chicken with plantain mole, sesame, avocado, crema and ancho chiles.
Casa Enrique is a small, white-hued restaurant with a modern vibe and traditional tacos. Its Michelin-starred chef, Cosme Aguilar, hails from Chiapas, Mexico, and adheres to nothing-fancy family recipes, exercising austerity when it comes to garnishes. Slow-cooked brisket and meltingly soft beef tongue are topped with onions and cilantro and nestled in double tortillas. His other homespun specialties include crumbled, spicy chorizo and pork marinated in chiles and pineapple.
You wouldn’t know it from its hole-in-wall-looks or unrevealing name, but Downtown Bakery is a revered East Village taqueria. Their chicken tacos feature savory mole saturating generous helpings of shredded meat stuffed in double tortillas. They also have superlative vegetarian tacos—de raja con papa—with mild poblanos, potato and avocado. Tacos come two to an order. There are a few tables at which you can devour your meal while it’s still hot and steamy. Note that it’s cash only.
Hotel Tortuga is not a hotel—but it is a relaxing place to hang out, channeling the spirit of a Mexican seaside café. Its tables come with crayons, and irreverent artwork by doodling patrons plasters the walls. Diners can stuff themselves with free chips and roasted salsa, which the staff sets out buffet-style. Their vegan and vegetarian-friendly tacos include barbecue tempeh, mock chorizo and portobello mushroom mole; omnivores may prefer the grilled chicken, steak or fish.
“The Corner Deli” it’s not, despite what’s advertised on the retro façade. La Esquina (“the corner” in Spanish) sports a street-level taqueria and takeout window whipping up juicy tacos filled with the likes of rotisserie pulled chicken and fiery avocado salsa, or sliced rib-eye with crispy cheese and salsa verde. Get a couple for a good, filling deal. The brasserie down below is a seductive hideaway that’s been a Nolita hot spot since 2006.
Los Tacos No. 1
Tacos here reach epiphany status. The mobbed Chelsea Market original led to a newer Times Square branch (229 W. 43rd St.) that’s just as awesome (and where the cooks are so speedy it’s like they’re on fast-forward). Adobada (marinated pork) and carne asada (grilled steak) steal the show, but the vegetarian grilled cactus is delicious, too—especially when dressed up at the salsa bar. Both locations are cheery, bright and standing room only.
Otto’s original taco shop in the East Village was such a hit that, before long, founder Otto Cedeno and his LA expat partners spread their smart concept to the West Village (131 Seventh Ave. South) and Hell’s Kitchen (705 Ninth Ave.). Each establishment makes tortillas fresh daily. Fillings include the customary clutch of chicken, beef and pork, plus shrimp or seasonal vegetables topped with great salsa, cilantro and onion.
Tacos El Bronco
Sunset Park is fun to explore via an international food tour, and Tacos El Bronco is one of its essential stops. Their loaded, cone-shaped tacos have such a devoted following that the attractive, old-school restaurant and two mobile trucks (both in the neighborhood: one on Fifth Avenue and 37th Street; the other on Ninth Avenue and 39th Street) can barely keep up with demand. It’s a place to step outside your comfort zone and sample lengua (tongue), barbacoa (goat) and tripe. More conventional proteins also sizzle away on the grill; the chorizo taco is especially delicious.
Rockaway Beach is a blast to visit, especially via the NYC Ferry. The go-to spot for battered fish tacos is Tacoway Beach, an outdoor patio framed by surfboard lockers (it’s also the Rockaway Beach Surf Club). Line up by the window, say yes to a dollop of guacamole, find a table and wait for your name to be called. The tofu tacos are tasty, too, piled with cabbage slaw and radishes. Keep in mind that it’s a seasonal establishment, generally open from May till September.
This storefront in Corona, Queens, is the real deal when it comes to producing masa the ancient Aztec way—boiling and soaking non-GMO white corn and grinding it up for tortilla dough. The method is called nixtamalization. Its benefits include more nutrient-dense, earthier tortillas to hold rotisserie grilled pork or refried beans, avocado and queso fresco, among other fine choices.