Food & Drink

The 11 Best Tacos in NYC

Published On 06/23/2015 Published On 06/23/2015
Andrew Zimmer/Thrillist

Tacos in NYC often get derided, often by jerks from the West Coast who haven’t had any “real” tacos since they left the worse side of the country. Well, shut them up by having them eat these: the 11 best tacos in NYC.

(Or, save yourself the headache, don’t invite your California-transplant friends, and just go enjoy the hell out of some tacos, minus those loser assholes.)

Flickr/Marian Zambrano

Adobada

Los Tacos No. 1 (address and info)
Chelsea
This taqueria stand in Chelsea Market (opened by three friends from Southern California and Tijuana) makes all of its tortillas (corn and flour) in-house. The go-to, the adobada, fills the tortilla with pork coated with a BBQ-like sauce of pureed chiles and vinegar. It’s sliced hot off of a rotating spit and paired with matchsticks of pineapple, and it’s magnificent.
 

Suadero

Taqueria Izucar (address and info)
Bushwick
Technically, suadero is a cut from the drop loin of a cow, a flap of striated muscle that runs close to the navel, similar to brisket. Butcher jargon aside though, all you need to know is that it makes for an amazing, tiny taco at this Bushwick taqueria -- hot, iron-rich, and ready for salsa.

Andrew Zimmer/Thrillist

Al pastor

EmpellĂłn Al Pastor (address and info)
East Village
The eponymous focus at Alex Stupak’s newest restaurant is al pastor -- marinated pork that twirls on a vertical rotisserie, splashed with red and green salsa and a sprinkling of cilantro and onion. The tripe, beef tongue, and bacon tacos are great, too, but the al pastor is the star. Bonus: an extensive menu of micheladas, margaritas, and mezcals for washing down the eats.
 

Campechano

New Mex Deli & Grocery (address and info)
Sunset Park
Culinarily speaking, “campechano” is just a mix of something: dark and light beers, a seafood ceviche of various fish, or a style of taco that combines multiple proteins. At this Sunset Park taqueria, the campechano taco is jumble of cecina, bistec, definitely crumbled chorizo, and probably anything else the grill master feels like throwing in. Pro tip: do some throwing in of your own, too, specifically of its totally top-notch salsas.
 

Duck carnitas

Cosme (address and info)
Gramercy
Cosme is about the furthest you'll get from a back-room bodega taqueria -- there aren’t even tacos on the menu, but Enrique Olvera’s first New York City venture does do an elegant duck, braised in the style of carnitas and served with achingly good house-made tortillas so you can make your own (hopefully, on someone else’s dime).

Andrew Zimmer/Thrillist

Any special taco

Cafe El Presidente (address and info)
Flatiron
While the al pastor may be pitch perfect, the fried fish taco, excellent, and the carnitas, resolute, some of the more unique tacos found at Cafe El Presidente shine light on rarely presented regional tacos of Mexico, like the Seared Fish Ixtapaleño with a tomato caper salsa or the green chorizo Toluca-style taco with cilantro and serrano chiles.
 

Al pastor

Taco Mix (address and info)
East Harlem
The beauty of the al pastor spit at Taco Mix -- a taqueria in East Harlem with a big window open to the street -- tends to halt New Yorkers in their paths. Here's what you do after you stop: order four, watch the taquero shave off the charred stack of marinated pork with a machete, then go proceed to walk and eat.

Andrew Zimmer/Thrillist

Lamb

Mission Cantina (address and info)
Lower East Side
Danny Bowien’s Mexican outpost has a ton of interesting and inventive takes on tacos (plus some bangin’ wings) but it's got a way with lamb tacos that is undeniable. It’s braised, shredded, and left to blister on the flattop in ample lamb fat, so it retains all of its funky, gamey, lambiness. Translation: “fuuuuuuuck, that’s good.”
 

Barbacoa enchilada

Taqueria Cocoyoc (address and info)
Bushwick
Carne enchilada is meat given the chile treatment. Barbacoa is steam roasted lamb or goat. Marry the two and you get a barbacoa enchilada, goat flecked with chile, then braised until it gives up and collapses to feed you. Folded into tacos, it’s the house special at this Bushwick taqueria.

Scarlett Lindeman/Thrillist

Cecina

El Vagabundo (address and info)
Sunnyside
The El Vagabundo truck that often parks in Sunnyside in the evenings serves a salted dried beef taco unlike any other. What are usually desiccated chips of meat elsewhere are instead juicy and plump here, begging for a spritz of lime and a dribble of salsa inside of the double-wrapped cocoon of steaming tortillas.
 

Carnitas

El Atoradero (address and info)
East Harlem
After being shuttered just two weeks ago at its original home in the Bronx, it's thankfully found a new home at East Harlem’s Vendy Plaza. The carnitas at El Atoradero are slowly simmered until tender in a cauldron of molten lard that is laced with orange, bay leaf, and Coke, then dredged up from the bottom and fashioned into lustrous tacos. Just a thimbleful of proprietress Denisse Lina Chavez’s blistering molcajete salsa is needed to set it off.

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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.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Los Tacos No.1 75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011 (Chelsea)

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.

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2. Taqueria Izucar 1503 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237 (Bushwick)

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.

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3. EmpellĂłn Al Pastor 132 Saint Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

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.

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4. New Mex Deli & Grocery 5914 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11220

This Sunset Park taqueria is no bigger than a studio apartment, but it packs enough flavor to compensate for the tight squeeze. Go for a campechano taco which mixes cecina, bistec, crumbled chorizo and anything else that happens to fall in there. Smother it all in their top-notch salsa.

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5. Cosme 35 E 21st St, New York, NY 10010 (Flatiron)

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.

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6. Cafe El Presidente 30 W 24th St, New York, NY 10010 (Flatiron)

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.

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7. Taco Mix 234 E 116th St #1, New York, NY 10029

This East Harlem taqueria has a big window opening out onto the street, a feature that usually stops New Yorkers in their tracks and draws them in. Order the al pastor and watch as the taquero shaves your amazingly marinated pork off its spit. Proceed to stroll and stuff your face.

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8. Mission Cantina 172 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

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.

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9. Taqueria Cocoyoc 211 Wyckoff Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237

This longtime Bushwick taqueria serves up plain and simple Mexican food and some of the best cheap eats in the borough. Tacos are the star of the menu but the chilaquiles, tortas, and chimichangas are pretty up there too. Don't be fooled by the counter service and styrofoam plates -- Cocoyoc has an expansive backyard that makes for perfectly casual dining in the summer.

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10. El Vagabundo Queens Blvd & 41st St, Sunnyside, NY 11104 (Queens)

The El Vagabundo truck often parks in Sunnyside in the evenings and while all the tacos here are good, the real kicker is the Cecina Taco of salted dried beef. While other places will usually serve up desiccated chips of meat for these, here they're plump and juicy wrapped inside a cocoon of two steaming tortillas.

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