There are thousands of places to find cheap tacos in this city. Most are bland, some are good. However, a growing number of chefs are specializing in reviving traditional Mexican recipes in new, inventive ways. That’s what former Alinea and wd~50 chef Alex Stupak does at his casual Empellón al Pastor (132 St. Marks Place; 646-833-7039). Serving freshly made tortillas and high-quality fillings, the East Village spot isn’t a downmarket taco joint, but it offers an inexpensive special for lunch.
For $10, the deal features any two tacos and a Mexicali beer or a soda (think Jarritos and Mexican Coke).
That includes the namesake specialty, al pastor, which features tender pork shoulder meat rubbed down with chile and roasted on a spit. Once it’s cooked through, the pork is sliced thin and topped with green and red salsa, slabs of sweet pineapple, diced onion, and cilantro. It’s all placed atop freshly made tortillas. Unlike at most NYC taco shops, the corn is nixtamalized (soaked, cooked, and ground) and turned into masa in-house, every morning, and a tortilla machine cranks them out throughout the day.
There’s more to the deal than the well-loved spit-roasted version. For the red chile pork, the meat is slowly simmered in tomatillos, guajillo and árbol chiles, garlic, cumin, and black pepper. It’s hearty and rich. There’s also beef with caramelized onion and an excellent potato and red chorizo version. For vegetarians, the place serves Mexican-style oyster mushroom tacos as well as nopales (cactus leaves) with árbol chile and queso fresco.
Sure, you can get cheaper Mexican food around, but these tacos are as fresh and authentic as you’ll find without leaving New York.