On the Taco Trail

Our restaurant critic goes hunting on Roosevelt Avenue

Tacos HNS Rodriguez at 89th was closing up by the time we arrived around 10:45. Nevertheless, they offered to make a pork, beef, or chicken taco, of which we chose the first two. Though bland, the tacos were bulging with meat and nicely dressed with guacamole. The elote looked even better—an ear of corn rubbed with margarine and red sauce, then dusted with dried cheese. The cart called Delicias Isabel glowed at the corner of Elbertson Avenue, and Isabel herself made us lengua, oreja, and cecina (tongue, ear, and dried beef) tacos, though she was out of tripa (tripe). Though the ears put some people off ("It tastes Chinese," was one comment), many found the pungency and chewiness of the beef appealing. Admirably, the tongue was fried crisp. We were seduced by the name and appealing appearance of the bar-café Guadalajara de Noche, just across the street, but the beef and chicken tacos were the worst we'd had all evening.

Finally, we found El Fogoncito #2 ("The Little Hearth"), a truck at the corner of 85th that slung a menu of Ecuadorian delicacies like ceviches and secos (stews) in addition to tacos and tortas. As if that weren't enough, they also made hamburgers, hot dogs, and something called "the long sandwich." The goat taco had a skanky savor that some adored, and the tongue taco was greasy and good, garnering middling marks overall for the truck.

Details

Listen to the Taco Trail Podcast

Statistical Roundup

Number of tacos eaten 48 (plus eight quesadillas and two taquitos)
Time 3.25 hours
Distance 38 blocks
Winner Taco Morelos

In general, it seems that the smaller the institution, the better the tacos. Many of our favorite examples came from carts. You’re better off choosing anything but chicken—the temptation to use skinless and flavorless breast meat is too great. And don’t expect the tacos to be ready instantly: Usually, the meat is cooked to order, and sometimes there’s a line, so expect to wait at least 10 or 15 minutes. Our top five taquerias are as follows:

1 Tacos Morelos
Cart near the corner of 94th and Roosevelt, parked Wednesday through Sunday in the evening. Best tacos: egg and rice, chile relleno and rice

2 Tacontento
96-15 Roosevelt, 718-533-7727, restaurant with carry-out window, open 24 hours. Best: pork al pastor taquitos

3 Delicias Isabel
Cart at Elbertson (near 87th) and Roosevelt. Best tacos: cecina and lengua

4 La Nortena
102-14 Roosevelt Avenue, 718-672-4485, restaurant with window through door on the right. Best tacos: chorizo and barbacoa

5 Taqueria Mexicana and Hot Dog
Cart at 98th and Roosevelt. Best: lengua tacos and flor de calavaza quesadillas

The clock had reached 11:15, and even though we were still blocks short of our objective, we decided that we were completely tacoed out. "My taste buds can't do this anymore," noted one participant. Accordingly, we decided to bag it. In addition, many of the likely storefronts seemed to be shuttering, though the carts and trucks were still in full swing. As we trailed footsore down Roosevelt to the Jackson Heights station, we noted three more places that looked promising. Tacos Guicho was a cart at the corner of Baxter Avenue thronged with happy taco eaters, while Tacolandia, in addition to having a wonderful name, is a long-running window that consistently provides the full range of fillings. Finally, right in front of the gleaming new subway station at 74th Street, there are a pair of dueling taco carts, each with its own knot of dedicated hangers-on. We'll be going back soon to check these places out.

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