The Hunt for the Ultimate Taco in New York City

Beth Kaiserman


You could say New York is taco-crazed, but then again, we’re insane about most things here. Fried chicken, pastrami, pastrami ramen, all ramen. You casually mention a food item and everyone has an opinion to share.


But tacos are one ferocious reason for debate. Anyone who’s lived in California at any point usually detests all of New York’s taco options. Others who rely on tacos for cheap and hearty sustenance during or after a night of drinking have their own special spots that serve “the best” breakfast taco to cure their pain. The problem is, most breakfast tacos are amazing after a night of picklebacks and bad decisions. How can we trust these folks to know what good tacos are?


Then there’s Mexican fusion. With Korean and Japanese tacos at places like Takumi and the recent sushi burrito at Uma Temakeria, it seems like real, no-frills Mexican food is becoming even harder to find.


There are also large-format fancy tacos at Empellon Cocina and Cosme, which purists might argue defeats the entire purpose of a taco -- meant to be cheap and eaten on-the-go. Homemade masa made from ground corn or hominy became the trend in these high-end spots over the past few years. Homemade tortillas hold up better than store-bought varieties and of course tastes much better. Masienda is a company that focuses on providing high-quality heirloom maize and will soon sell their own tortillas.


You have to go to the right neighborhoods and delis if you want to pay less than $3 for a legitimate taco. If you need a traditional taco to get through the day, here are your best bets.


Red Hook:

At the Red Hook Ball Fields, you can find Mexican food truck Piatzlan along with many other Red Hook vendors who have been serving authentic Latin American eats here since the 1970s.



Sunset Park:

Sunset Park is perfect for a daylong food crawl sampling some of the city’s finest tacos. You won’t spend more than $20. Stop at Tacos Matamoros for an excellent chorizo taco, al pastor and cabeza, which is tender cow’s head. Save room for another al pastor at Taco Mix in Industry City. For delicious chunks of pork, try the carnitas at La Flor De Izucar Bakery. Or skip the crazed crawl and have lunch at Tacos El Bronco, where the lunch deal is $7 for 5 tacos and a soda. They also have two food trucks in the area.


East Harlem:

Mexican immigrants make up about 8 percent of the El Barrio population, so there are plenty of taquerias and panaderias around. Check out Taco Mix, the same one mentioned above for al pastor tacos. La Cabana has fresh Mexican and Dominican food. El Aguila offers 24-hour taco action and breakfast specials. The Mexican Street Stand on East 117th Street and 3rd Avenue is another go-to; look for it on the Northeast corner.


Corona, Queens and Jackson Heights, Queens:

Corona’s population is mainly Latino. The tortillas made at Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona are used in many Mexican restaurants throughout the city. Grab a barbacoa or nopales taco on a fresh tortilla, or build your own tacos family-style. Check out Tacos Gloria for all the $2 tacos you can stomach.


A late-night meaty taco stop at Taqueria Coatzingo under the 7 train in Jackson Heights might be the most authentic choice $2.50 you could spend. You have until 3 a.m. Tacos Morelos, with trucks in Williamsburg and the East Village, is also based here. El Gallo Giro is the gem for carne asada cravings from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. If you haven’t eaten tacos in Jackson Heights, it’s time to make the trek.



In the garage known as Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos, you’ll find homemade tortillas, Mexican sodas and tacos for $2.25 each. You’ll write your order and name on an index card and wait patiently while thanking the taco gods that you actually managed to find this place.



Los Tacos No. 1 is probably the best bet for frustrated Cali folks working or living in Manhattan. The adobada is roasted pig marinated in red chili and served from a spit like shawarma. The bustling line moves pretty fast, so don’t be discouraged.

With a wide range of taco options, we can continue fighting Californians about what a good taco means. The best way to continue this conversation is over an ample platter of tacos and cervezas at one of these restaurants or trucks.



Author Bio:

Beth Kaiserman is Highbrow Magazine’s chief food critic.


For Highbrow Magazine

not popular
Google Images
Bottom Slider: 
Out Slider