January 2009

Our La Fiesta Feast!

Our La Fiesta Feast!

With a hankering for tacos and no desire to go too far from home, we ordered tacos and a mammoth burrito from La Fiesta, the taqueria Elizabeth found in Washington Heights a few weeks back. At $2 per taco, I decided to taste the rainbow of tacos and get six of ’em: steak, pork, chicken, spicy pork, al pastor and chorizo. Now, I’m not such a savage that I’d eat all six at once, but after downing the steak, spicy pork and chicken tacos, I damn near grabbed the other three.

The tacos at La Fiesta are exquisitely tasty, spiced wonderfully and very similar to the ones at Tehuitzingo Deli Grocery down in Hell’s Kitchen…though La Fiesta’s tacos come topped with a bit more onion and cilantro than at TDG. Still, they’re not just similar in terms of the rockin’ flavors–these tacos are a lil’ small. It’s easy and affordable to down three or four of these in a snap.

La Fiesta has officially become my go-to taco place when I’m at home. Hell yeah! More photos on Flickr.

We actually do enjoy Taco Bell. Sure, we’d rather eat awesomely authentic tacos filled with quality meats, but there’s just something enjoyable about heading into the suburban wilds of Westchester (we live in Manhattan) for errands and hitting the Bell on Central Avenue in Yonkers. That said, Taco Bell has some incredibly bad tacos.

Supreme chalupa from Taco Bell

Supreme chalupa from Taco Bell

Their standard hard and soft tacos? Yikes. Nasty stuff. No, we go to Taco Bell for our own little guilty pleasures. For Elizabeth, it’s the Meximelt–a simple little melted cheese and meat treat. For me, it’s the chalupa. Oh glorious chalupa! And really, the chalupa stuffins are almost negligible. Ground beef, chicken, steak, whatevs, it’s not gonna be that mind-blowing at Taco Bell. No, the chalupa rules because of the shell. It kind of tastes like deep-fried flat bread–at once chewy, crunchy and soft.

Oh, and big ups to Taco Bell’s special Club chalupa, the “McRib” of faux-Mexican fast food delights (the specialty menu item that only shows up once a year or so and for a very short amount of time). Bacon and chicken and sauces inside the chalupa shell? Nom nom nom nom…
We’ll hopefully be back to normal posting soon. Elizabeth’s been dealing with sickness and the lead-up to New York Comic Con has been hell for me. Tacos!

We’ve had good tacos, bad tacos, great tacos and forgettable tacos, stretching back to when we first started to talk about doing this blog. Through it all, we’ve come to decide that, so far, we’ve found three definitively and consistently great taco places. I don’t think we can say that these are the BEST taco joints in NYC–everyone has different ideas of good tacos and we really haven’t eaten at enough NYC taquerias to be so bold, but here are our CURRENT picks for Top 3 Taco places in NYC.

1. Castro’s Mexican Restaurant – Absolutely amazing hard tacos, exceptional green sauce, off the chain tortilla chips, great meats (steak and pork being their best), kickassedly huge tostadas and perfect for eating in or taking out. Hell, whenever we go there, I have to order a few soft tacos to go so I can have them for lunch afterwards.
511 Myrtle Ave Brooklyn, NY  11205

2.  Tehuitzingo Deli Grocery – Great variety of meats, very tasty. It’s much better as a take out joint as the actual taqueria is just a booth in the back of a deli with a few barstools and 3 countertops to eat at. But the two ladies that cook the tacos really cook the HELL out of the tacos. They’re pretty small and inexpensive, so getting 3-4 is almost required. I tip my hat to fellow Marvelite C.B. Cebulski for tipping us off to this place.
695 10th Ave, New York, NY 10036

3. Taquerea Y La Fonda Mexicana – This spot up near Columbia University has monstrously big tacos that are awesome when they’re not too greasy. My biggest gripe with it is that you just don’t know what you’ll get when you go. When they’re on, hot damn, they’re outta this world. When they’re not…meh. That said, the good far outweighs the bad. Get some!
968 Amsterdam Avenue, New York NY 10025

We’ll do more in-depth reviews of those places soon. I kind of hope our Top 3 changes as we go on, because that means we’re eatin’ some good-ass tacos!

After Ryan’s birthday extravaganza, I wasn’t expecting tacos for lunch today. I did have lunch and museum plans with my pal Daphne, though, and we decided to let our museum choice–The Hispanic Society, at 155th and Broadway–dictate our lunch selection.

Out of necessity, Daphne, a vegetarian, did some research. With the Caribbean foods that dominate Washington Heights, it’s often hard to find a place that isn’t all about meat, doesn’t include pork in the beans, or chicken broth in the rice.  That’s fine for my omnivorous tastes, but not part of the day’s plans.  Daphne found La Fiesta, a small, taqueria-style Mexican restaurant, only a few blocks from the museum.  And it had vegetarian tacos and burritos!  Success!

As we entered La Fiesta, the grill and food prep area stood to the left.  I was pleased to see tender-looking meats in bubbling tomatillo sauces, fresh chopped cilantro, onions, and limes, and queso oaxaca among the ingredients–this was no Dominican/Mexican hybrid, but a place with genuine Mexican flair.  La Fiesta’s dining area has a number of two-seater tables, a moderate, comfortable amount of space for lunch, but not set up for large groups.   (Of course, we were one of two occupied tables at lunch, so this was not a problem.)

While we waited for our tacos, we split an order of guacamole and chips.  The guacamole was a little smoother than I tend to like it, but the chips were delightful: crunchy, robust-flavored, with just the right amount of salt, and not too greasy, they stood out from many other taqueria chips.

Each taco, accompanied by slices of lime and radish, came tightly wrapped in paper.  I can’t really comment on the flavor of Daphne’s vegetarian tacos, but they looked delightfully cheesy (Oaxaca, I think).  I had one Al Pastor and one bistec taco, each topped with onions and cilantro.  I don’t know if the Al Pastor was properly from a rotisserie (the Mexico City way, based on Middle Eastern cooking methods), but it was tender, juicy, and a little sweet, just like it should be.  Compared to the well rounded and well balanced flavors of the Al Pastor, the bistec did not particularly stand out.  It was just a bistec taco, albeit a better-than-average one.

Sadly, since this was a surprise lunch, there are no photos to document the occasion.  But I fully intend to drag Ryan back for a second visit, where I intend to explore some other menu items, maybe a cemita, the sandwich of Pueblo, or a torta or a sope, all of which were on the menu.  And then there will be photos!  Lots and lots of photos!

Finally, stay tuned for our exploration of high-class Mexican in NYC at Rosa Mexicana!

Qdoba logo

Qdoba logo

Mexican-ish fast food joint Qdoba has a nifty little deal. Sign up for their frequent eater card, give them your birthday and every year, you get a free burrito or entree of your choice. Well, it’s buy one, get one, but it’s still kinda free. My boss, John Cerilli, and I share the same birth-date and last week we got the same email: free food from Qdoba!

Before I go into the tacos, I will say that I have a soft spot for Qdoba. The Q (as we…or I…called it back then) located in the Palisades Center Mall in West Nyack, NY was a frequent haunt for my friends and I who worked at Wizard Magazine. It wasn’t great food, but it was cheap, quick and sometimes one of their gigantic burritos just hit the spot.

3 tacos at Qdoba

3 tacos at Qdoba

Anyway, Cerilli and I decided to head to Qdoba to enjoy some free food–once last week and once this coming week. I, of course, chomped down on their three-taco plate during our first visit. I even went for hard tacos, cheese and tomatoes–no need to try and get something authentic when nothing there is authentic, right? I really didn’t expect good tacos, but they a little bit crappier than I’d anticipated. Bland meat (both the steak and the pork) and very little of it. Taco shells were crap. I don’t even think there was salsa.

And I’m going back. This week, I think I’ll go back and try the soft tacos. Mix it up a bit! Then, maybe, I’ll head to Chipotle and do some sort of crappy fast food taco face-off! Although, that means I’ll have to pay for (probably) lackluster tacos. Meh.

We watched the Mexico City episode of “No Reservations” tonight. To say he ate some amazing looking tacos would be an understatement. Dude ate some of the most beautiful tacos I’ve ever seen. I watched the taco segments, mouth agape and watering and just imagined how glorious that must have been.

Unfortunately, Travel Channel doesn’t have the full episode online for viewing. All they have is this very short clip from later in the episode where he eats bull meat tacos. And, yeah, it looks good, but there’s a good chunk of the episode devoted to Mexican street food and tacos of various shapes, sizes and meat-fillings. If you can, I highly advise checking it out. For now, peep this:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Taqueria Corona

Dining area and grill

Elizabeth: The first time I went to Taqueria Corona in 1994, I hated it.  I had an enchilada with a side of rice and beans, and to me, it was wrong.  All wrong.  The enchilada was covered in cheese, which was burnt to a crisp like the top of a pizza.  The saffron rice and black beans didn’t taste at all Mexican to me, and I left thinking that my companions were unsophisticated ignoramuses with severe palate disorders.  Oh, the taco snobbery of a college freshman!

The grill and bar

The grill and bar

The next time I went, dragged there for some special event nearly two years later, I reluctantly decided to give it another chance (if just not to be a jerk to my dinner companions).  This time, I ordered chicken soft tacos and some rice and beans.  After the first mouthful of beans and rice, I made a pleasant discovery: they tasted almost (but not exactly) like the black beans and rice I’d had on our university orchestra’s trip to Costa Rica.  And then I bit into the soft taco, with delightfully smoky grilled chicken and a lime-infused pico de gallo on a lightly toasted flour tortilla.  The taco was not quite Mexican, either.  But it was bursting with flavor and remarkably satisfying.

Sometime after that, I discovered that my association of the beans and rice with Central America–rather than Mexico–wasn’t all that off: the restaurant’s owner hails from El Salvador, and that has definitely made it into the mix.  If you are looking for authentic Mexican food, Taqueria Corona is not the place to find it.  If you like good food, you will find it there.

Taqueria Corona

Taqueria Corona

Throughout college, I would eat at Taqueria Corona at least once every two weeks.  At the time, it was incredibly cheap ($7.95 for the Numero Uno, described below), convenient to Loyola, and, over time, became a place I associated with good food and good friends.  Thus, when Ryan and I visited New Orleans, it joined the list of potential taco consumption.

At this point, I’m going to hand the review over to Ryan, who can give you a better impression of the present-day Taqueria Corona, without the hazy filter of nostalgia.

Ryan: We were just about to leave New Orleans and deciding on what to have for luch. We almost went for po-boys (an excellent choice), but then Elizabeth threw out the idea of going to an El Salvadoran taqueria. Well, the choice was clear and we hit Taqueria Corona on Magazine Street just in time–the restaurant stops seating people at 2pm (until they open back up for dinner a few hours later).

I really liked the look of the place. It was a bit tacky and over the top, but sometimes that’s fun. The place was crowded and I knew it was going to be a three-taco meal for me. We ordered chips and pico de gallo, but they never actually brought that out. Oh well.

Tres Tacos

Tres Tacos

I ordered a rib-eye carne asada taco, a pork taco and a tongue taco. Tongue’s an acquired taste and generally I like it a LOT more on a sandwich from a good deli than in a taco, though I’ve had some good tongue tacos before. This one, well, it wasn’t all that. It was, somehow, softer than tongue usually is, too wet and not as flavorful as I’d expected. The pork taco was far better–the tortilla was packed with delicous chunks of slightly spicy pork. Good stuff! But truly, the steak taco stole the show for me. Thick strips of wonderfully marinated steak with some green onion, it was kind of like the steak you get with fajitas. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

My main issue with the tacos–all of them–was the tortilla. Flour tortillas just don’t taste right to me anymore. Kinda gummy and excessive, they took away from all the tacoey goodness. And the salsa was fine, but not really memorable.  Back to you in the studio, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth:  I can see what Ryan is saying about flour tortillas, but I still like them.   The challenge to consume the taco in time before it turns gummy is part of the fun for me; I also prefer burritos to tacos (Shhh!  Don’t tell!).

Numero Uno

Numero Uno

In terms of my order, I got the usual: The Numero Uno, a combination that comes with a small chicken burrito, chicken soft taco, beef flauta, and rice and beans.  It is–and always has been–more food than one should consume at one sitting, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done it before.  The chicken burrito is nothing like what you would find on the West Coast: only black beans, chicken, and a smooth, tomato salsa, it is not pick-up-able, nor is it filled with the extras, such as rice, sour cream, guacamole, or cheese, that you would find in Taqueria Corona’s giant, stand-alone burritos.  Having lived in San Francisco, I can say that the burritos at TC will not win any authenticity contests, but they are (in their smaller form) a flavorful addition to the combo.

Having discussed the chicken soft taco and rice and beans already (They’re still good!), I turn now to the highlight of the meal: the deep-fried, gooey beef and cheese flauta.  Topped with sour cream and guacamole, it’s the comfort food of all comfort foods, even amongst all the carbohydrates and fats already on the plate.  Hard on the outside, gooey on the inside: what could be better?

And on that note, back to you, Ryan!

Ryan: The flauta was the shit! Seriously, if we ever go back, I’m getting two steak tacos and a flauta. Overall, Taqueria Corona was good, but not great.

We posted more photos on Flickr!

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