Would You Eat This 3-Pound Chicken Nugget?
This second, more casual venture from the team behind Cosme was Thrillist’s pick for 2017’s best restaurant of the year. Here, chefs Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Innes wrote a menu brimming with healthy, vegetable-forward plates. Expect dishes like bright green or red chilaquiles sprinkled with flax seeds, and a pambazo sandwich (crumbles of house-made chorizo, potatoes, black beans, and lettuce hugged by two soft buns).
Claro is a little slice of Oaxaca on the canal. Like the restaurant’s tiles and ceramic dishes, most of the ingredients here are imported from Mexico. House-made masa, cheese, and sausage are key to the menu’s success. Start with the memalas -- delicate discs of masa piled with chorizo and queso fresco -- then feast on the melt-in-your-mouth short rib mole negro with spring onions and potatoes.
If you’ve stopped by the ever-mobbed food truck near Melody Lanes, you owe it to yourself to visit the brick-and-mortar restaurant on Fourth Avenue to work your way through the 20-item taco menu. Choose from fillings both familiar (carnitas, pollo, pastor) or skew pluckier (tongue, pork stomach) -- all are heaped on yellow corn tortillas and topped with cucumbers, radishes, grilled green onions, and a spritz of lime.
Long Island City
Although sleekly designed, the city’s only Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant still feels like a neighborhood joint. House-made sopes come brimming with chorizo, beans, avocado, and cream. The mole de Piaxtla smothers chunks of chicken under an elaborately spiced, chocolate-tinged mole. And the famed tres leches cake, a squat sponge soaked in three kinds of milk and drizzled with goat milk caramel, should end every meal.
This Franklin Avenue mainstay has been attracting brunch-goers since opening in 2011. Diners scarf down breakfast enchiladas and huevos rancheros with hefty pours of sangria. The crowds dwindle at dinner, but the menu expands to include sopas, tacos, quesadillas, tortas, and larger plates. Any selection from a large offering of tequilas will pair nicely with the pork short ribs braised with salsa verde.
Lower East Side
La Contenda’s nachos have earned something of a cult following: crisp tortilla chips are piled high with black beans, pico de gallo, Monterey Jack, and Cheddar. The tacos, too, pack a punch, filled with tempura catfish, braised short rib, or grilled hanger steak. Cocktails marry habanero heat with cold coconut-infused tequila.
An unassuming tortilla factory right off the Jefferson Street L train sends corn tortillas spinning straight from the factory line to the tiny cantina next door. Sidle up to the red brick garage and order tacos, and lots of them. For $3 a pop, go for the chorizo and the carnitas and enjoy the gratis house-made salsas.
El Atoradero sprang from a Bronx bodega, where proprietress Denisse Lina Chavez served her renowned carnitas out of gargantuan cauldron in the middle of the store. Although rent hikes pushed the neighborhood favorite out of the Bronx and into Brooklyn, and Chavez is no longer in the kitchen, the food is just as good. Ask about the excellent rotating daily specials, like meatballs stuffed with tiny quail eggs. You can still get the carnitas, too: luscious, fatty chunks of braised pork, piled into tacos, quesadillas, and burritos.
Chelsea and Times Square
Los Tacos No. 1 is the Chelsea Market brainchild of two friends from Southern California and another from Tijuana, Mexico. There’s not really anywhere to sit, but that’s a good thing in taco circles: The less distance the taco has to travel from the grill to your hand, the better. Line up, order at the counter, ask for the corn tortillas, and marvel at the assembly. In 30 seconds flat, a cook hands you a hot, heavy plate. The adobada, pork marinated with chili and vinegar, is especially good. Hover near the spread of salsas on the counter, and try them all.
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.
Tacombi, the Mexican mini chain with four locations in Manhattan and one in Montauk, is tasty at any hour: mornings for breakfast tacos and coffee sourced from Chiapas and Veracruz; crisp quesadillas brimming with queso oaxaca for lunch; and rounds of tacos and strong cocktails at night. Chef Jason DeBriere alters archetypal taco fillings, topping soft tortillas with beer-battered cod and pickled cabbage, Michoacán-style carnitas, and al pastor with slivers of pineapple.
Alex Stupak’s burgeoning Mexican food empire has crept uptown from the East and West Villages to a flagship restaurant that brings his take on the classics to Madison Avenue. Aside from the requisite guacamole, nothing here is ordinary. Tacos come filled with falafel, pastrami, or thick-cut bacon; crab nachos are topped with sea urchin queso; and “fajita” beef comes with credentials.
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.
Snagging a reservation here a couple of years ago was almost impossible, especially after the Obamas stopped by for a date night. The frenzy has abated, yet the vibe remains electric. Dishes like chef Enrique Olvera’s lauded duck carnitas and husk meringue are still impressively creative.
This dark, clubby restaurant’s ace bar program uses rare Mexican herbs, corn juice, and even powdered insects to flavor its tequila and mezcal cocktails. The kitchen is equally inventive, serving dishes like guacamole with ant salt, zippy ceviches, and a green vegan mole, flush with vegetables.
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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