The fast-food Mexican format that offers quick mindfully-assembled tacos, tortas, and burritos is so popular in the western end of our country, but it has yet to take hold this far east. Unlike big-branch conglomerates serving slop, these types of restaurants serve streamlined Mexican fare, and the rapid pace of the assembly line belies the flavor of the food. The newly established Los Tacos No. 1 in Chelsea Market takes a good stab at the model.
The setup is a little scrambled: Wait in line, move to the left, and jostle through the crowd to hand your ticket to one of the cooks who calls out your order. You stand around until you are handed a plate, which will be heavy and hot. To eat, you must stand at the high counter, which is loaded with bowls of limes, troughs of salsa, and containers of radish. There is no seating. The crowd will reach over your shoulder to scoop condiments and grab napkins. You’ll turn this way and that to allow neighbors in.
But no matter. The tortillas are thick, nubby, and soft. They are hand-pressed and griddled to order, which allows the round disks to steam fillings like well-seasoned chopped carne asada ($3.50); charred bits of chicken ($3); sticky, bland grilled cactus nopales ($2.50); and chile-rubbed pork adobada with batons of pineapple ($3), imbuing them with the aroma of just-cooked corn. The tacos are crimped into rosettes and then wrapped in tidy paper packages that fall apart if the contents are not inhaled in the next minute or so.
There are also quesadillas on the menu ($3.50 to $4)–made with two flour tortillas–or mulas, quesadillas made with corn tortillas. They sandwich any of the fillings, and the adobada, which is essentially al pastor slow-cooked on a spit with chips of pineapple, is best, layered with enough Monterrey Jack cheese to saturate the tortillas with melting grease. It’s a hot mess, one that wilts the flimsy plastic forks and knives. But if you can figure out how to ferry it to your mouth, it’s delicious.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.