Taco Mania Takes NYC! BlackBook Eats and Explains

Horchata interior

Sneers of cultural superiority are generally the province of New Yorkers, Parisians, and people with inherited estates in Buckinghamshire. Angelenos, especially, just can’t be bothered scoffing at anyone.

Suggest going for Mexican in Gotham with anyone from LA in tow, however, and you’ll get a look like you just used the wrong fork at the Élysée Palace.

But the hungry elite of NYC, perhaps finally thoroughly embarrassed about all those $32 burgers, have now concluded that $22 tortillas look slightly less conspicuous on the AMEX statement. Indeed, Mexican is suddenly Hot! Hotter!! Hottest!!!

It all started on a little square in NoLita in 2005, when Serge Becker and partners opened La Esquina not so much to launch a next wave Mexican food movement—but as an excuse to generate a scene where Carlos D, ephemeral art stars and assorted model types could nibble on post-Millennial tostadas and pound killer margaritas, while cutting a magnificent dash or two across the room. Admittedly it took awhile; but with food trucks recently pillaging every Middle-America staple into a burning culinary trend, full-blown taco mania in NYC was as inevitable as turf wars in Ciudad Juárez. Forward to 2014, and not only have Becker and friends opened one of the most scorching hotspots in town in Bodega Negra…but even godhead chefs from Jean Georges to April (Taco Belle!) Bloomfield have gotten in on la acción.

Bodega Negra. Photo by Tanya Blum

As Becker himself sagely explicates, “The novelty of Mexican is gone, but the flavors are here to stay. There is room for exploration; culture isn’t static. It’s a testament to the depth of the foundation. The ebb and flow is irrelevant.”

Of course, this trend knowingly cedes authenticity for a South-Of-The-Border dining experience done the only way New York knows how: with pomp, style, hipster pretension, and occasionally extortionate prices.

Though Choza Taqueria’s Akhbar Nawab insists, “Some people are after the food of the moment, while others have a genuine interest something special. We are of the latter mentality.”

Mind, if your ideal of a Mexican restaurant still must involve dime store Christmas lights, plastic Jesus statues, and Coke bottles labeled Hecho en Mexico, then may we recommend pointing your ’59 Impala in the direction of East LA, USA. Otherwise, hop a taxi and join BlackBook for a muy delicioso tour of Nueva York.


Masa and tortillas

It would seem safe to say, don’t ever bet on a Mexican hockey team, and don’t ever ask a monsieur from Alsace to whip you up a plate of huevos rancheros. But wouldn’t you know, Strasbourg’s own Jean Georges has caused a sensation within the rarefied confines of ABC Carpet & Home with…haute tacos. This being JG, one can also sup on mezcal cured salmon and Florida white shrimp in agua diablo. Worth it for the opulent, posh-goth interiors alone. Rezzies are extremadamente difícil, so plan ahead.

EL PLATO: Glazed Short Rib Tacos, Habanero Relish & Frizzled Onion

LA BEBIDA: Mezcal, Mango Essence & Guajillo Margarita


Horchata tacos image

The anti-ABC, the muy nuevo Horchata actually comes pretty close to replicating the atmosphere of el barrio, with its charmingly strung white lights and spooky Dia de Los Muertos bric-a-brac. But straddling the WVill and Chelsea, it draws a decidedly cute crowd for nicely priced hibiscus margaritas, mango mojitos, enchiladas doblados, specialty ceviches, and, of course, tacos (including one made with Brussels sprouts and spiced pumpkin seeds—magic!). There’s also an awesome guacamole menu, which we imagine is quite like the one they surely have up in Heaven. And speaking of Cielo, happy hour is 4pm – 7pm every weekday.

EL PLATO: Guacamole Con Chorizo Y Queso

LA BEBIDA: The Funky Monkey Horchata


BN_Peking Duck Tacos_Photo Credit Tanya Blum

This NY outpost of the celeb-magnet London original veritably perfects the restaurant-as-nightlife-destination (Or is it the other way around?). Which, one imagines, would send your LA friends into permanent respiratory failure. Fitted into the discotheque-with-rooms that is the Dream Downtown, it pulls lots of pretty people for extravagantly executed (and genuinely excellent) Mexican street food set against a gorgeous, luxuriously designed Latin-gothic backdrop. There’s also a cool café and juice bar, for more laidback visits.

EL PLATO: Carne Asada or Lamb Barbacoa Tacos

LA BEBIDA: El Diablo, With Milagro Silver Tequila, Ginger Syrup, Fresh Lime Juice, Crème De Cassis


Salvation Taco image real

Salvation may be a lofty claim for a restaurant—but just as Jesus (pronounced Hay-zoos for purposes of this article) fed the five-thousand, April Bloomfield’s “religious” following seems virtually equal in number. The meant-for-sharing Taco Dinners (you must do the braised lamb shoulder with cucumber salsa & crema) make for a tasty party, followed by pitchers of Salvation Margaritas and Chilean Sangria upstairs at the Pod 39 hotel’s sexy and architecturally spectacular neo-Renaissance Rooftop Lounge—which is something like crossing Oaxaca and Firenze, if you can imagine.

EL PLATO: Al Pastor Tacos with Roasted Pineapple & Avocado Salsa

LA BEBIDA: The T&T, with Olmeca Altos Blanco, House-Made Mexican Tonic Water, Grapefruit Bitters, and Fresh Lime


El Vez image

Named for the, erm, Mexican Elvis (that’s meta-kitsch, for all you Cultural Studies types), Stephen Starr’s Philly hotspot finds a second home in Battery Park. And what could be more fun than seeing Wall Street brought to its knees by fancy-pants margaritas? As for the eats, it’s hard to go wrong with pork belly tacos and oxtail enchiladas. Brunch is a scene here.

EL PLATO: Huevos Rancheros at Brunch; Holy Mole! Tasting Plate at Dinner

EL BEBIDA: Pineapple Mezcalito Margarita


Mexicue tacos image

Veritably started that whole Mexican food truck thing, only to be thwarted by creeping regulations (who knew NYC had so many rules?). So they’ve just opened the first full service Mexicue at the nexus of Bryant Park and the escalating Upper Nomad corridor (consider that now officially coined by BB). It’s a lot about the barbecue here, and taco selection includes the signature Spicy Smoky Shroom and Green Chili Brisket. Curiously, it’s Kings County Bourbon cocktails that dominate; the Seasonal Jungle Juice crosses moonshine with fresh farm fruit. ¡Ay, caramba!


LA BEBIDA: Mexicue Mule, with Kings County Bourbon, Ginger Beer, Chili Ginger Syrup and Fresh Lime Juice


Choza tacos image

New outpost of the WVill and Flatiron roadside inspired little charmers, located in the trendy Gotham West Market. Prices are astonishingly reasonable for the quality, and the tacos, burritos and tostadas are available build-your-own style. The flour-averse can order up all the yummy insides in one of the tortilla-free Bowls.

EL PLATO: Chicken Taco with Charred Pineapple, Buttermilk, Cumin And Tomatillo Salsa

LA BEBIDA: Mexican Hot Chocolate



Presidente tacos image

A bizarre garage space which serves from a parked vintage VW bus, Fonda Nolita is the Cheech & Chong of Mexican restaurants. Fittingly, its nothing fussy here; just frijoles criollos, pork belly tacos, and a tight, middle-brow mezcal, cerveza and vino selection. Conversely, new Flatiron cousin Café El Presidente is done up like a Mexican marketplace. And while Enrique Peña Nieto himself might not be popping in, the menu is at least fit for an embajador or two. Indeed, Tacos Especiales sport international flavors: Swiss Chard y Poblano Pepper, Lobster Pacifica, etc. Teetotalers can sip Tacombi’s own Lupita brand sodas.

EL PLATO: Seared Veracruzana Fish Tacos (Tacombi); Sonoran Shrimp Taco (El Presidente)

LA BEBIDA: Sangria Tinta (Tacombi); Smoked Coke, with Coke Classico, Mezcal & Bitters (El Presidente)


Toloache tacos image

A trio of exalted Midtown, UES and WVill taqueiras, Toloache 82 is the dinner destination, Toloache 50 great for lunch, and Toloache Thompson the newest and hippest of the three. Tacos might be stuffed with anything from spicy lobster to dried grasshoppers (¡dios mío!) and tasty quesadillas are birthed from a real brick oven.

EL PLATO: De Lechon Suckling Pig Carnitas

LA BEBIDA: Herradura Seleccion Suprema Tequila

Opening Soon: Mexico City’s most exalted chef Enrique Olvera (whose Pujol ranks on many of the world’s Top 50 lists) will be opening Cosme in the Flatiron later this summer.

Mención de Honor: Barrio Chino, Empellon Cocina, Sinigual, El Toro Blanco

Tomorrow Is National Margarita Day! NYC’s Cheapest Drinks

Tomorrow is National Margarita Day! And in honor of the holiday, it’s time to not only watch a puppet named Professor Hans Von talk about alcohol, but also to change your Friday night plans, and take time to down that inaugural, semi-obligatory tequila-teeming Mexican cocktail. But where? And for how much? And what flavor? You are in good hands. Check out these places for the most reasonable, delicious, and potent drinks.

San Loco:This Mexican chain sells $6 frozen lime margaritas and $26 pitchers, and $6.50 frozen fruit margaritas (strawberry, cactus pear, pink guava, mango) for $28 pitchers. Open until 5am, so drink and stay a while.

Blockheads: Of course. $4 margaritas. Get the job done. Pick up the pink lemonade Mexican bulldog (a margarita filled with a Corona) for added potency.

Benny’s Burritos: Same story at this West Village spot owned by the Blockheads team. Cheap, slushy margaritas, and very convivial bar scene. Aka you’ll meet someone.

Barrio Chino: This Lower East Side sexy Mexican spot is known for three things: their grapefruit margarita, lime-jalapeno margarita, and a very long wait. Leave work early, and take a seat.

Dallas BBQ:Texas-sized, $7.99 frozen margaritas are at this BBQ chain, and they’re notoriously huge. Even the “regular” is larger than the basket of cornbread. Good luck.

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Non-Jewish Girlfriends Happily Dine at Xixa

Last week Jason Marcus and Heather Heuser’s second restaurant Xixa opened up in Williamsburg, just a few doors down from their also ironically named joint Traif, which mean “non-kosher.” The paradox of Traif comes from the restaurants proximity to the large Hasidic area of Brooklyn, and while there they make sure to fill its menu with pork-tastic nibbles, at Xixa, which is a play on the word “shiksa,” meaning “non-Jewish girlfriend” in Yiddish, they turn out eclectic Mexican-style fare.

Spicy rock shrimp gorditas or Spanish mackerel tartare anyone? That’s just a few of dozens of small plates chef Marcus serves, all regulated to various “food groups” like cheese, grains, and meat. The menu also organizes dishes based on light to heavy, and in that order. Aside from truly tasty takes on classic Latino food, they also have a full bar that specializes in wine, tequila, and mezcal, including a smoky shot laced with duck fat and chased with duck chicharrones. Where the actual cocktail and booze list isn’t extensive, they make up for that with their 100-plus bottles of wine, all wickedly categorized by the iconic woman that best describes them. Want a “fresh, transparent, and bright” vino? Go for the Twiggy column. For a “perfumed, aromatic, and avant-garde” variety, they offer seven choices under Coco Chanel, including a Pansa Blanca from Spain.

This kind of whimsy gives Xixa a jump ahead of other new restaurants in the area; and their solid food and comfortable setting doesn’t hurt either. Plus, the space has an elegance to it that calls for a date, but with a rope-covered ceiling and abstract paintings, it could easily remain a casual spot. Either way, bring your Jewish or non-Jewish girlfriend, or better yet, your boyfriend, the kitchen stays open until 1am.