While once mostly true, the whole "there's no good Mexican in New York" argument is now totally false. From fine-dining restaurants to back room bodega taquerias, and everything in between, NYC's Mexican food scene is better than it's ever been, with authentic dishes that rival the real thing, alongside inventive new riffs that could only exist in NYC. Here are the 10 spots doing it the best right now.
El Atoradero evolved out of a Bronx bodega, where proprietress Denisse Lina Chavez would serve her renowned carnitas out of a gargantuan cauldron dragged into the middle of the store. After opining another location next door, rent hikes pushed El Atoradero out of the Bronx, landing it at this much larger Prospect Heights location. Make sure to ask about the daily specials, which are always excellent and in the past have included things like meatballs stuffed with tiny quail eggs, a pork rib stew in salsa verde, or a swarthy mole. And you can still get those carnitas, too -- luscious, fatty chunks of braised pork, piled into tacos, picadas, or sopes.
Los Tacos No. 1 is the Chelsea Market brainchild of three friends from Southern California and Tijuana, Mexico. There’s not really anywhere to sit, but that's a good thing in taco circles: as a rule, the less distance the taco has to travel from the grill to your hand, the better. Order at the counter, hand your ticket to one of the cooks, tell them whether you want corn or flour tortillas (you want corn) and watch the assembly. Thirty seconds later the cook hands you a hot, heavy plate. The adobada, pork marinated with chile and vinegar, is especially good. Salsas sit in big molcajetes on the counter; hover near the salsa roja.
The tiny tacos that emerge from this hole-in-the-wall under the JMZ train in Bushwick are order-by-the-dozen-able. There’s a whole host of taco fillings, though suadero (braised beef marinated with vinegar, garlic, and oregano) is a local favorite. Tacos come on paper plates, adorned with a pinch of onion and cilantro, a grilled cambray onion, and coins of radish. Squirt on one of the incendiary salsas from the squeeze bottles on the counter.
Danny Bowien may be best known for his creative Chinese-American eats at Mission Chinese, but similar culinary aptitude is found at his Mexican outpost, Mission Cantina. The cooking is playful, clever, and often includes Asian touches. The vegetarian options are as good as the meaty things, like the fried chicken burrito or mole spiced chicken wings, which are served family style, flanked with tortillas. Those tortillas, which he nixtamalizes in-house (the ancient preparation of turning dried corn into corn dough), results in the best in the city: golden, hot, and emitting buttery popcorn aromas.
Cafe El Presidente, from the Tacombi group, is an excellent place to stop at any hour of the day: morning for pastries and coffee sourced from Mexico; quesadillas and cold Carta Blancas for lunch; and rounds of tacos and cocktails at night. Chef Jason DeBriere, formerly of Peels, approaches archetypical taco fillings with devotion. Fillings like stewed salt cod with olives, Michoacán-style carnitas, and al pastor with shards of pineapple traverse the various regional cuisines of Mexico.
Alex Stupak’s tortilleria is all the proof you'll need that New York knows its tacos. The eponymous taco is of course the star -- marinated pork that twirls on a vertical rotisserie, splashed with red and green salsa and a sprinkling of cilantro and onion -- but the tripe, beef tongue, and bacon tacos are worth equal praise. Best of all? It's open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, so consider your late-night taco cravings fulfilled.
El Tenampa is a prototypical New York City Mexican grocery-cum-taqueria -- a place to shop for Mexican wares like dried beans and tomatillos; a bodega that stocks toilet paper and piñatas; or a place to sit and eat. The righteous taqueria at the back of the building serves tacos, tortas, soups, heftier platters of chile rellenos and enchiladas, and tamales on the weekend. And just so you can customize your order times infinity, there's a plentiful, free-standing condiment bar stocked with a colorful bricolage of spicy salsas, mild salsas, sliced radish, cucumber, and guacamole.
Cosme was the buzziest opening of winter 2014, when snagging a reservation was harder than figuring out what color this orange is. The hysteria has turned down a notch, though not the electric vibe at celebrity chef Enrique Olvera’s first New York City restaurant. Cosme is a bit more approachable (and more expensive) than Olvera’s super-cerebral, avant garde cooking at Pujol in Mexico City, but dishes like the lauded duck carnitas and husk meringue are still impressively creative.
In this dark, clubby restaurant that's just a few steps down from 2nd Ave you can find an excellent bar program based on tequilas and mezcals that utilizes rare Mexican herbs; ingredients like corn juice and agave; and even insects, ground to powders and used as flavoring agents. The kitchen is equally inventive, serving dishes like guacamole with ant salt, zippy ceviches, and goat braised in avocado leaf.
Park Slope (& other locations)
Don’t feel like trekking out to Queens to sit at a rickety table in the back of a bodega? Maybe your Mom is in town and wants a margarita? Chef/owner/cookbook author Roberto Santibañez, a Mexico City expat, operates three solid locations of his popular Fonda restaurants that serve classic Mexican cooking. The chairs are comfortable, the lighting is dim, and the tortillas are made from heirloom corn varieties -- all the better for scooping up guacamole.
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Scarlett Lindeman covers the city's best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
1. El Atoradero Brooklyn708 Washington Ave, Brooklyn
2. Los Tacos No.175 9th Ave, New York
3. Taqueria Izucar1503 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn
4. Mission Cantina172 Orchard St, New York
5. Cafe El Presidente30 W 24th St, New York
6. Empellón Al Pastor132 Saint Marks Pl, New York
7. The Black Ant60 Second Ave, New York
8. El Tenampa Deli & Grocery706 4th Ave, Brooklyn
9. Cosme35 E 21st St, New York
10. Fonda40 Avenue B, New York
El Atoradero evolved out of a bodega next door to its original (now closed) Bronx location, where proprietress Denisse Lina Chavez became known for her renowned carnitas that she served out of a gargantuan cauldron in the middle of the store. Now, she has a proper sit-down restaurant in Prospect Heights serving a roster of homey Mexican fare. Alongside exemplary forms of the standard tacos, tortas, and cemitas, El Atoradero also offers incredible daily specials, like mole poblano, braised ribs, and quail egg-stuffed meatballs.
Located in Chelsea Market, Los Tacos No.1 is the brainchild of three friends, collectively from Mexico and California, who wanted to bring authentic Mexican food to the East Coast. You can expect affordable prices, fresh ingredients, and family recipes.
The tiny tacos that emerge from this hole-in-the-wall under the JMZ train in Bushwick are order-by-the-dozen-able. There’s a whole host of taco fillings, though suadero (braised beef marinated with vinegar, garlic, and oregano) is a local favorite. Tacos come on paper plates, adorned with a pinch of onion and cilantro, a grilled Cambray onion, and coins of radish.
Danny Bowien may be best known for his creative eats at Mission Chinese, but similar culinary aptitude is found at his Mexican outpost, Mission Cantina. The cooking is playful, clever, and often includes Asian touches. The vegetarian options are as good as the braised meats, and no matter what you order, be sure the tortillas make it to your table. The unforgettably golden, hot corn rounds are durable enough to support whatever you pile on top. If the food isn't enough of a pull, Mission Cantina's fiesta-forward atmosphere surely is, but the most entertaining part might be watching the chefs crank out tacos in the partially open kitchen.
From the Tacombi team, Cafe El Presidente is a one stop shop for all your Mexican cravings. The Flatiron market-style restaurant sells pastries and coffee (sourced from Mexico) in the morning, quesadillas and spiked juices for lunch, and ice-cold beer and rounds of tacos, from familiar al pastor and carnitas varieties to more unique sweet potato and spicy shrimp ones, all day long. All of the tortillas are made at the in-house tortilleria.
Alex Stupak’s East Village Mexican is all the proof you need that New York knows its tacos. Across the street from Tompkins Square Park, the counter-order spot is more laid-back that Stupak's other Empellon ventures thanks to its simple focus on tacos, margaritas, and Micheladas. The menu keeps things simple: there are tacos (the eponymous al pastor is a must), chicken wings, nachos, and guacamole. The crowd is cool and casual, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when Empellon is open until 2am -- consider your late-night taco cravings fulfilled.
In this dark, clubby restaurant that's just a few steps down from Second Ave you can find an excellent bar program based on tequilas and mezcals that utilizes rare Mexican herbs, ingredients like corn juice and agave, and even insects, ground to powders and used as flavoring agents. The kitchen is equally inventive, serving dishes like guacamole with ant salt, zippy ceviches, and goat braised in avocado leaf.
El Tenampa is a typical New York City Mexican grocery-cum-taqueria: a place to shop for Goya products; a bodega that stocks toilet paper and piñatas; and a place to sit and eat. The righteous taqueria at the back of the shop serves tacos, tortas, soups, heftier platters of chile rellenos, and enchiladas. A condiment bar stocked with salsa, radish, cucumber, and guacamole lets you take your order to the next-level.
The brains behind the traditional yet unique and modern Mexican restaurant, Cosme, is superstar chef Enrique Olvera, who is aiming to change the way Americans eat and think about Mexican food. What makes the menu so contemporary is the absence of familiar Mexican cuisine markers. While you won't find enchiladas on the menu anytime soon, the core flavors are Mexican, and many of the ingredients are sourced locally.
Fonda is a colorful, cozy, and modern Mexican cantina in the heart of Alphabet City. This spot specializes in elevated takes on Mexico City's most delectable street foods-- think elotes, flautas, ceviche, guac, margs, and more. This always-lively and bustling spot is a solid standout for brunch (who can pass up bottomless Bloodies?) or happy hour.