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At one point or another everyone has heard the lament that there’s no good Mexican food in NYC. Realistically, it’s a bunch of L.A. expats bemoaning the lack of Cal-Mex cuisine. Actually, there’s plenty of great tacos and south-of-the-border specialties from many different regions. Los Tacos No. 1 (75 Ninth Avenue; 212-256-0343), inside the Chelsea Market, offers a selection of inexpensive tacos inspired by what you’d find in Tijuana.
Los Tacos No. 1 was opened by three friends from Tijuana and Brawley, California, with the goal to bring authentic Mexican fare to the East Coast. Most of the menu is prepared in-house with imported ingredients from old family recipes. The format mimics that of some beloved fast-taco joints; walk up to the cashier, place your order, move to the left, and hand the chef your ticket. He or she will ask you which type of tortilla (handmade corn or wheat) and what kind of toppings you’d like (each one comes with onion, cilantro, and guacamole).
You can watch the chefs slicing adobada next to the grill: pork marinated in chile, sliced and impaled on a large metal rotating skewer, then roasted on a rotating spit like kebab meat. The thin hunks are thrown onto the griddle to order, then placed atop a tortilla. When they hand over the goods, a selection of salsas, ranging from mild to hot, is offered on the counter along with radishes and limes — you can load up and try as many as you like.
Nothing on the menu rings in over $5. Tacos and tostadas are served with a choice of carne asada ($3.75), grilled chicken ($3.50), grilled cactus ($3), or pork ($3.50). Make sure to sample the adobada; it bursts with flavor, crisp and succulent at the same time. Plus, it’s certainly the most unique find. Quesadillas and mulas (essentially quesadillas made with corn tortillas) are served with the same meats for $4 to $5. And for those who’d rather skip corn or wheat, there’s a vegetarian nopal plate with cactus, beans, and cheese for $5. A side of meat is just $1 more.
If you’re looking for a relaxed sit-down experience, this isn’t your place. There are seats and tables in another section of the market, but the easiest and most entertaining way to eat is to jostle up to the counter to claim some standing space — unfortunately, there’s a good chance you’ll just want to eat more.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera. Follow @forkintheroadVV.