When I first moved to New York from Los Angeles, I despaired of finding a good taco, or good Mexican food in general. Then I started exploring Sunset Park, Jackson Heights, and the Red Hook ballfields, and realized that New York actually does have good tacos, and Mexican seafood cocktail, and huaraches, and everything else. But before I made my way to those places, the first good taco I had in New York was from Tacos Nuevo Mexico in South Slope, Brooklyn. They are by no means the best in the city, but at the time they were like manna from heaven.
But recently, Tacos Nuevo Mexico revamped its menu, clearly to cater more to the growing number of non-Mexican residents in the neighborhood, and is now renovating its bar to look more yuppified. These developments seemed like very bad signs.
I picked up one of the new menus, and saw that many prices had gone up–tacos increased from $2 to $2.25 or $2.50, and worse, the menu now contained the careful specification that the tacos were soft tacos. Huevos rancheros had gone from $5.50 to $7.25 and the huaraches had gone from $5.50 to $6.50. The fajitas had gone from a small listing at the bottom of the menu to a large-print item reading “Our Famous Authentic Fajitas, only the best!” A Tex-Mex fajita had been added. So had a gringas quesadilla. Many of the pork preparations had disappeared, including my beloved pastor en chipotlado (roast pork in chipotle sauce). The cow foot tostada was gone. Much of the Spanish has disappeared from the menu, so that what was chorizo is now Mexican sausage and what was al pastor is now roast pork. There goes the neighborhood.
But, okay, the place is just trying to adapt to a changing demographic, and of course it’s better that they adapt than go out of business. So I ordered some tacos and a Oaxaqueno tamale (above) to see if the food had been changed, too.
Happily, it’s still definitely the best in the area, outside of Sunset Park. The Oaxaqueno tamale, wrapped up in a steamy banana leaf, features flavorings pressed into the top of the flattish square of masa, instead of stuffed inside. The tamale was stained red from a dousing of mild guajillo sauce, and covered with shreds of chicken and batons of carrot. The al pastor taco is still delicious, full of deeply caramelized nubbins of spicy pork. And the shrimp tacos, although not the amazing Ensenada-style fried shrimp tacos, are very nice, filled with a generous amount of grilled shrimp. Plus, the thin red salsa on the side is just as fiery and delicious as ever.
So, Tacos Nuevo Mexico now serves a Tex-Mex fajita, but it also still serves veal brain tacos and a chile-heavy tripe soup. Everyone wins.
489-491 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn