The inviting dining room of Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona, Queens.
Mexican cooking has been coming of age in the city lately, and even champions of such regional variations as Cal-Mex now have lots to be thankful for. We have our upscale places, too, showcasing the gastronomic stylings of several regions of Mexico, and southern Mexican taquerias in such profusion, that — if taco trucks are also considered — you are now never very far from a very good and very inexpensive taco or quesadilla.
All we’re missing now is a Oaxacan place, such as the ones in Los Angeles. We can always dream. Till then, savor the wonderful Mexican restaurants we already have, here offered in ranked order. We hope we’ve included your favorite place, but if not, tip us off.
Cascabel Taqueria’s incredibly satisfying Bibb lettuce, potato, fresh cheese, and toasted pumpkin seed salad.
10. Cascabel Taqueria — Unexpectedly lodged among the singles bars and other fleshpots of the Upper East Side, and inspired by the regional Mexican cooking of Chicago’s Rick Bayless, Cascabel’s menu is filled with scrumptious surprises, from the taco stuffed with homemade chorizo to the massive chile-braised beef rib. And the craft beer list puts the place totally over the top. 1542 Second Avenue, 212-717-7800
9. Dos Toros — Cal-Mex has never been better here than at this microscopic, San Francisco-style burrito joint. The carne asada tacos are one of our faves, bulging with tender marinated steak. Don’t forget to spring for the guac topping, at an extra charge but well worth it. 137 Fourth Avenue, 212-677-7300
8. Estrellita Poblano III — One of the best mole poblanos in town distinguishes this “Little Star of Puebla,” so thick and rich you can almost mold it into little peaks, sending up grace notes of nut and cinnamon as it engulfs your chicken enchiladas. The chiles rellenos are some of the freshest in town, oozing buckets of stringy white cheese. 2328 Arthur Avenue, the Bronx, 718-220-7641
7. Tulcingo Del Valle — Like many south Pueblan cafecitos, this joint evolved from a grocery store that set up a few tables in front, eventually expanding into an adjacent space. The chalkboard lists all sorts of home-style specials from one of Mexico’s most arid regions (a long drought fueled immigration from the area), featuring such seasonal ingredients as verdolaga (purslane, served in a green mole with pork skin), faba (stewed fresh fava beans), and a rainbow of moles and salsas. 665 Tenth Avenue, 212-262-5510
Tulcingo Del Valle’s very rich chicken enchiladas with mole poblano.
Downtown Bakery’s chicken enchiladas swim in guajillo sauce.
6. Rosa Mexicano — This upscale Manhattan mini-chain excels at elegant evocations of regional Mexican fare, from the legendary mole known as manchamanteles (“tablecloth stainer”), to mixiotes, lamb shanks braised with dried chiles and tequila in parchment. The Upper West Side branch is the best. 61 Columbus Avenue, 212-977-7700
5. Puebla Taqueria — While we were drawn to the goat-eye tacos at this splendid Staten Island taqueria in Port Richmond recently, everything else we’ve sampled is more than up to snuff, including wonderful chilaquiles with red or green sauce and a choice of meat or eggs. The menu also prominently purveys variety meats in tacos and soups. Besides eyeballs, the choice runs to cow head and tongue, and pig tripe, skin, and trotters. 1285 Castleton Avenue, Staten Island, 718-720-1447
4. Downtown Bakery — This brilliant little southern Mexican hole-in-the-wall morphed from an Italian bakery over 15 years ago. Their chicken enchiladas with guajillo chile sauce is superb, spicy and richly textured. Also recommended is the torta milanesa de rez, a sandwich made with a breaded beef cutlet you might mistake for a Texas chicken-fried steak. 69 First Avenue, 212-254-1757
3. Tortilleria Nixtamal — These tortilla obsessives make their flatbreads on a machine in the front window of their Corona cafe, starting from scratch with dried corn, which they grind, slake, and mix into masa, used to make the excellent tortillas, which are deployed in tacos or enchiladas. Filled with sausage, mozzarella cheese, and zesty tomato sauce, Nixtamal’s Italian tamale is a culinary invention the city can be proud of. 104-05 47th Avenue, Queens, 718-699-2434
2. Cholulita Deli — Of the many taquerias under the J tracks along the Bushwick border, Cholulita Deli is foremost. It, too, was once a grocery store, but the prepared food is so good that the groceries are being pushed into a newly acquired adjacent space. For a big feed, go for the fried whole porgy with all the trimmings. Smaller appetites should seek out antojitos hand-formed from masa, including huaraches, sopes, and quesadillas, with your choice of toppings. 888 Broadway, Brooklyn, 347-435-0813
Cholulita’s spicy shrimp Mexican-style.
At Tacos Morelos, you can have a taco placeros stuffed with yellow rice and fried chile relleno, and what a mellow flavor combination it makes. Spoon on the pickled onions and jalapenos. Man, this taco is fantastic.
1. Tacos Morelos — This nicely decorated taqueria has a bar that serves beer, which is a big plus, but even more important is the pristine quality of its food, partly due to the Atlixco Deli next door and its profusion of fresh indigenous ingredients. The Pueblan sandwiches known as cemitas make great bar snacks, but the high point of the menu is the tacos placeros (“market tacos”), utilizing hand-patted tortillas and such striking ingredients as yellow rice, potatoes, chiles rellenos, and hard-boiled eggs, proving that a taco can contain things besides big wads of meat and poultry. 94-13 37th Avenue, Queens, 347-832-0193
Taco Morelos’ cemita made with milanesa de rez (beef schnitzel).
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 19, 2010