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Like bedfellows and debut albums, we’re omnivorous in our tastes, which is why we go to different taquerias for specific tacos — al pastor here, shrimp tacos there. You want the best cecina? Not here. You have to go to Queens. It is hard to do one thing well, and since a taco has the potential to be a perfect palmful of food, we think it deserves genuine focus. Here are the 10 best taquerias in NYC, each of which clearly executes its vision deliciously.
10. El Vagabundo Truck Queens, Queens Plaza at 40th-41st Street, Queens, 347-276-4522
This late night truck in Sunnyside, Queens, serves an arresting cecina. Paper thin sheets of beef are cured with salt and par-dried, the closest thing we have to a beef jerky taco. The cooks here are affable and knowing, tucking the juicy, plump cecina into tortillas with a smile and an extra order of grilled onions. The meat tears under the tooth with a burst of iron savoriness.
9. Cafe el Presidente, 3938 Broadway, 212-927-7011
Sometimes, when we’re feeling tender, all we want is a rich, flaky flour tortilla gobbed with melted cheese and bits of pork. That’s what you get if you order the “gringa” at Cafe el Presidente, where the tacos, salsas, and even the escabeche, is made in house. Additionally, all of the seafood tacos — shrimp, lobster, and fish — soothe the soul.
8. Taco Mix, 234 East 116th Street #1
These guys have the biggest and best trompo’d al pastor in town, spinning slowly on a jacked-up spit. The taquero shaves off crusty, caramelized shavings of marinated pork with a machete, a couple slivers of pineapple in the mix. Each tortilla is lovely dunked in rendered fat. And, if you catch them on a favorable day, they’ll let you bring your own beer inside.
7. Los Tacos #1, 75 Ninth Avenue, 212-256-0343
We are always skeptical of the California newbies that blow into town, feeling like they’re blessing NYC with their taco art because they’re from west of the Mississippi, but we can’t quibble with this spot’s pork adobada, toasted in-house tortillas, and streamlined menu. Great salsa bar, too, gentlemen. Touche.
6. Taqueria Cocoyoc, 211 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-497-4489
The barbacoa enchilada is goat lashed with pounded chiles and garlic, braised, pulled off of the bone, then seared on the griddle, swaddled in corn tortillas, and sprinkled with onions and cilantro. The corners of the braised meat are frizzled by the heat of the flat-top so concentrated and rich you can skip the salsa; just a spark of lime sets it off.
5. Tacos El Bronco Truck, 4302 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 917-405-5759
On late Friday nights, after the bars have cleared out, you’ll find the Tacos El Bronco truck firing on all cylinders. Buried in orders, lighting fast, these guys can cook circles around fine-dining line cooks, putting together orders faster than you can say, “Can you hand me my tweezers?” Order carne asada, oreja, buche, and all of the gnarly bits, with a cup of steaming hot birria for dunking, on the side.
4. Mission Cantina, 172 Orchard Street, 212-254-2233
When they hit the mark, MIssion Cantina’s house-nixtamalized tortillas have a profound corn flavor that can make you dip your head in sorrow when you realize that you’ve been eating terrible tortillas for years. They make everything they are wrapped around better, melding especially well with braised vegetables like pumpkin with mole and mushrooms with chicharron de queso. Is the pork jowl with shrimp chips taco something you’ll find on a street corner in Navarte? No. Do we care? Absolutely not.
3. Tacos Morelos, 94-13 37th Avenue, Queens, 347-832-0193
Avoid Tacos Morelos’ freestanding carts and head to the brick and mortar in Jackson Heights. You’ll get lakes of green mole, inky mole poblano, pork braised with the green succulent purslane, all spooned over rice in a warm tortilla as the best kind of DIY taco. The almost intolerably spicy stew of chile mora is worth the explosive gastric distress the next day. What doesn’t kill you only…
2. El Atoradera, 800 East 149th Street, Bronx, 347-590-6989
El Atoradera serves thoughtfully cooked and exactingly seasoned, homey Mexican fare. Ask what’s good, and owner Lina Chavez will guide you in the right direction. Her version marks the apogee of the city’s carnitas game, and her salsa molcajete is one of the spiciest salsas in town.
1. Taqueria Izucar, 1503 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-456-0569
There’s no shame in the re-order, and tiny, supple tacos of braised suadero (veal) are often ordered by the half-dozen here. So if you need a couple more, you should go for it. And if you are ever walking around in Bushwick and spy this place open, hunger or no, you should order a round — Izucar has predictably unpredictable hours. It may be the most resolutely Mexican taqueria in town.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas.