At Cosme, Olvera churns out 2,500 tortillas a day from masa made with imported single-source landrace corn by the ancient Mexican process of nixtamalization. “Tortillas are vital,” Olvera says. “With a good tortilla you can make a wonderful taco just with a piece of avocado and a pinch of salt.” However, Olvera’s creations are rarely so simple. His menu may be “Mexican-inspired,” but he also uses local ingredients from the Hudson Valley and stuffs his tortillas with flavors from around the world, like black garlic-rubbed NY strip steak and fried shishito peppers.
It’s not just these upscale takes that make New York’s taco scene so unique. It’s the fact that they exist alongside more affordable and traditional versions. Tortillería Nixtamal in Corona, Queens, grinds corn for its own masa. In Long Island City, Casa Enrique makes traditional lengua (beef tongue) tacos with meat that's slow-cooked and almost creamy. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, there’s Tacos Matamoros’ porky chorizo tacos, Tacos El Bronco’s stewed head meat and chewy pig’s throat tacos, and Ines Bakery’s chipotle-drenched tinga tacos. For a great taco al pastor, there’s Taco Mix on 116th St in East Harlem. In Ridgewood, Queens, Guadalajara de Dia II is a grocery store that doubles as taqueria, and its pollo asado is somehow both rich and fresh. Los Tacos No. 1 in Chelsea Market makes its own tortillas and a balanced, zingy pico de gallo. Having such a strong base of the traditional alongside alternative, out-there variations is what truly makes New York a taco town.