The Absolute Best Tacos in New York

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The full, impressive spread of duck carnitas at Cosme. Photo: Melissa Hom

For years, prevailing wisdom has dictated that New York is an also-ran taco town. Yet that perception has begun to change as ambitious spots — both high-end and low-end — have opened and given serious thought to their tortillas and fillings. With that in mind, we’ve turned to California expat and New York’s resident taco fanatic Morgan Cohn to determine which spots have the city’s most serious taco cred.

The Absolute Best

1. Cosme
35 E. 21st St., nr. Broadway; 212-913-9659

The duck carnitas served at Enrique Olvera’s Flatiron Mexican spot is the kind of dish you find yourself thinking back on days after you eat it. Which is appropriate, given that it takes the kitchen that long to make it: Duck is cured for three days and slowly cooked overnight. It’s shredded and served wrapped tightly in skin that’s crisped to order, garnished with cilantro, radishes, and onion. The meat is so tender that it falls apart at the touch of a fork, perfect for stuffing into the handmade blue-corn tortillas — served in baskets that keep them warm throughout the feast. Yes, the dish costs nearly $70, but the bright side is that there’s plenty to share, even if you’ll want to eat it all yourself.

2. Los Tacos No. 1
Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave., at 15th St.; 212-256-0343

The menu at Los Tacos is simple: grilled steak, grilled chicken, grilled cactus, and marinated pork called adobada. You want that pork, which is marinated in red chile and vinegar, spit-roasted all day long, and sliced to order. The fresh corn tortillas, similarly, aren’t pressed and griddled until you order, ensuring they’ll be warm and fragrant. The Chelsea Market spot might not seem like the likeliest place to find a truly authentic taco experience, but for $3.50 a pop, that’s exactly what you’ll find here.

3. Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos
271 Starr St., nr. Wyckoff Ave., Bushwick; 718-456-3422

When considering tacos, tortillas, of course, can be the make-or-break factor, so a taqueria that just so happens to be inside of a tortilla factory is already off to a good start. Off the Jefferson Street L stop, you’ll find an unassuming garage that is indeed home to some seriously fresh tortillas, served doubled-up to help contain the bountiful fillings. About those fillings: You want the chorizo, which strikes an ideal balance between spicy, sweet, and deeply porky. You also want to finish it off with spoonfuls of the shop’s excellently tart salsa verde. And, another bonus: The shop is BYOB, so grab some beer on the way and make an afternoon of it.

4. Tacombi at Fonda Nolita
267 Elizabeth St., nr. Houston St.; 917-727-0179

Tacombi does two very different things very well. First, the Baja-style fish taco is a close as New York gets to Ensenada. Fresh cod is lightly dipped in a tequila-spiked batter and expertly fried until the outside is crisp and greaseless. Shredded cabbage, acidic and simple, is the only garnish. Alternatively, the large shop also sells superlative breakfast tacos from the counter in the back. Fluffy eggs, noticeably spicy chorizo, and fresh pico de gallo are wrapped up in a fresh flour tortilla, just greasy enough to accomplish what any great taco should be able to do: cut through your hangover.

5. Tacos Morelos
Multiple locations

There is such a thing as the ideal street taco in New York, cooked on a well-worn griddle and simultaneously crisp and greasy, brightened with diced onion and some shredded cilantro. It just so happens to come from this chainlet — with brick-and-mortar stores in Jackson Heights and a newer shop in the East Village that spun off from a classic cart — where the al pastor is marinated in chiles, spices, and just enough pineapple to not be overpowering, and the meat is quickly tossed on the griddle so it’s satisfyingly firm, instead of sauce-y or soupy. This is how any ex-Angeleno — or anyone who’s had enough to drink, really — should end a night out.

The Best Tacos in New York