Grub Guide

Tortilla Triumphs: 33 Knockout New York Tacos
The taquitos al pastor at Fonda.

By now, it’s a commonly heard refrain: New York’s Mexican food can’t hold a radish to the stuff in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. But the people who have been saying that for ages haven’t looked around lately: New York is bubbling over with luscious carnitas, mouthwatering lengua, and exceptional al pastor, all stuffed inside first-rate corn and flour tortillas … and maybe a wonton wrapper or two.

In fact, when it comes to tacos, New York does what it’s always done best with traditional foods from other places: offer authentic versions right alongside new-look concoctions that meld all the flavors of the city’s enormous cultural mix (hence the wonton wrappers), from elemental versions like the standout $3 classics served in Sunset Park, all the way up to high-end renditions filled with lobster or sweetbreads.

And now, tacos are as ingrained in the city’s food fabric as burgers, pizza, and bagels — okay, maybe not bagels. But while New York may not rival a city like Los Angeles in taco quantity (seriously, that city has a truck on like every corner), it makes up for it with its breadth of quality. In fact, even with all of the picks on this list, some great places were no doubt missed — that’s why the comments are there. Read through, then let everyone know what else needs to be on here.

And when you’re done with all that, check out the most noteworthy tacos in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

What to Order: Calamari or Nopales (pictured) 253 Broome St., nr Orchard St.; 212-228-6710; (See the Listing) Margaritas and other cocktails get much of the attention at this LES spot, but stomach-fortifying food is a must. Good thing, then, that the tacos available are inventive — they’re some of the only calamari tacos we’ve seen in the whole city — and wholly fulfilling. Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: The Guaco Taco (pictured) In Essex Street market; 646-820-8226; (See the Listing) GQ Editor Jim Nelson put it best in his New York Diet: “Just about the smartest $3.85 you can spend on lunch. Must be consumed with Mexican Coke.” Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Chorizo, Lengua, and Vegetal (pictured) Multiple Locations; (See the Listings) Luchador decorations and baking-sheet serving platters are the mark of a certain breed of downtown taco shop, which is why Cascabel’s locations are such welcome additions north of 59th Street. As the Underground Gourmet pointed out in its three-star review, the taco fillings “approach fusionville” but rarely disappoint. Even vegetarians will be happy: The mushroom-potato-poblano combo in the Vegetal taco is a standout.
What to Order: It’s All Good Multiple Locations; (See the Listings) What began as a Vendy-winning cart has given way to two successful shops. Go for the chorizo or Baja fish tacos (available at the Greenpoint location), or get nostalgic with the Gringo: a combination of spiced ground beef, lettuce, and Monterey Jack cheese in a crispy shell that will bring to mind (in a good way) those Ortega kits you got as a kid.
What to Order: Fish Tacos At the Brooklyn Flea; (Official Site) Forrest Cole had to close his standalone Brooklyn shop, the Loading Dock, early last year. But his Flea outpost, Choncho’s, which specializes in riffs on West Coast–style fish tacos, maintains the strong following. Opt for the beer-battered, fried-fish variety.
What to Order: Any of the tacos or huaraches At the Red Hook Ball Fields and Brooklyn Flea; (Official Site) The tacos at this stand, beloved both at the Red Hook Ball Fields on weekends and at the Brooklyn Flea, are just like mini-versions of the fabled huaraches — giant, burrito-sized creations that are folded instead of wrapped. Mix and match your fillings and toppings, and if you go overboard (we always do) upgrade to the oversized tortillas.
What to Order: Carnitas or Carne Asada Multiple Locations; (See the Listings) Burritos get top billing at this New York–based mini-chain (which often begs comparison to Chipotle). Too bad: Soft carnitas and smoky charred steak are both fantastic tucked into the shops’ soft corn tortillas. No matter what you order, spend the extra 50 cents on the fresh guacamole.
What to Order: As Many Different Items As You Can Handle At 19th St. and Sixth Ave. This tiny truck, parked in the shadow of Bed Bath & Beyond, dutifully feeds the Flatiron masses, and the homemade ingredients make the case that New York’s best taco trucks are as good as any you’ll find in Southern California. Chorizo is our go-to favorite, but we have yet to find a dud on the menu. The camarones and pumpkin-flower options (both pictured) that were offered on a recent visit were special highlights. Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Anything You’d Like At 43rd St. and Sixth Ave.; 60th St. and Third Ave.; 49th St. btw. Sixth Ave. and Seventh Ave. We were initially skeptical of the hype surrounding these three midtown carts, given their locations. Office workers, after all, can be grateful for anything that isn’t another Chop’t or Cafe Europa. What a pleasant surprise, then, that these are some of the most authentically satisfying tacos in town, piled full of various meats — we like the al pastor, but all are great — and finished with chopped onions and best-in-class salsa rojo or verde. Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Sweetbreads with Slow Roasted Carrots and Chorizo Gravy 230 W. 4th St., nr. W 10th St.; 212-367-0999 (See the Listing) Debating the authenticity of Alex Stupak’s two Empellón restaurants misses a more important point: Stupak’s food is ambitious, impressive, and (usually) delicious. In his hands, tacos are vehicles for combinations like lobster and corn; scallops, tomatoes, and bacon; spinach and macadamia nuts; and (our favorite) tender sweetbreads, carrots, and rich pork-y sauce. In fact, take the tortilla away and the dish would be right at home on any tasting menu in the city.
What to Order: Taquitos Al Pastor Multiple Locations; (See the Listings) We love both locations of Roberto Santibañez’s Fonda (the original in Park Slope and a second spot that opened earlier this year in the East Village). At either, you’ll find chefed-up takes on classic Mexican grub, but our favorite might be the most traditional: tender, slow-cooked pork with pineapple and a pureed tomatillo-avocado salsa.
What to Order: Migas Breakfast Taco, Brisket, or Fried Chicken. 605 Prospect Pl., nr. Franklin Ave., Crown Heights; 718-230-4941; (See the Listing) As the Underground Gourmet raved in this year’s “Eat Cheap” issue, the Tex-Mex tacos at this Brooklyn newcomer “don’t apologize for their tasty if inauthentic fillings.” Take their advice and get the egg-stuffed breakfast tacos (take note, late-risers: The breakfast tacos are served until 4 p.m. on weekends), or go for the very untraditional fried-chicken taco dosed with jalapeño-laced buttermilk.
What to Order: Carnitas (pictured), or Chorizo, Potatoes, and Cactus Multiple Locations; (See the Listings) The scene at Serge Becker’s super-hip taco shops (both the Soho original and the newer Williamsburg locations) tends to overshadow the quality of the food. We’re all for hot spots, but we still spend the majority of our time at the takeout taco windows at both locations. Our advice for ordering: Stick to the pig, either slow-cooked or chorizo form. Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Composed Taco Plates 147 Ave. A, nr. 9th St.; 212-260-0235; (See the Listing) The East Village’s wrestler-themed taco shop sells items one-to-an-order, but we still find ourselves being pulled toward the “something to share” section of the menu, which includes three-to-an-order options like the El Santo (steak, chorizo, and chicharron) and the vegivore-friend Huracán (mushrooms, poblano peppers, melted cheese; pictured). Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Lengua, Rajas (both pictured) 295 Berry St., nr. 2nd St., Williamsburg; 718-388-5988; (See the Listing) The taco selection at this Williamsburg spot is eleven-items strong, but at only $2.50 each, you can make a decent dent in one sitting. Roasted poblano peppers are slathered in crema, tempering their heat, and the unbelievably tender tongue tacos are more than worth the $1 supplement that’s charged.
What to Order: The chef-ier, the better. Multiple Locations; (See the Listings) At both tiny New York locations (there are also Mercaditos in Miami and Chicago), chef Patricio Sandoval’s menus reward the more adventurous taco connoisseur. Smoked-chicken tacos are topped with a squash-apple sauce and shaved Brussels sprouts, and toasted peanuts serve as a textural contrast on the carnets. The unexpected finishes are all part of the appeal.
What to Order: Smoked Short-Rib Tacos (Pictured), Alabama BBQ Chicken Multiple Locations; (See the Listings) True to the name that adorns the truck and the two standalone locations, the menu here mashes up Mexican-inspired options with southern barbecue staples. The inauthenticity would be troubling if the results weren’t so satisfying. We’re especially fond of the Alabama-style mayo barbecue sauce slathered on the chicken tacos. Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Grilled Vegetable Taco (pictured) 104 North End Ave., nr. Vesey St.; 646-747-1600; (See the Listing) Floyd Cardoz is a Top Chef Masters–winning chef who went from making inspired Indian fine dining at Tabla to thoughtful takes on American tavern food at North End Grill. Lost in all that is the fact that he’s also the driving force behind Union Square Hospitality’s El Verano Taqueria stands. It’s a lot to keep track of, but Cardoz helpfully distills the best from all of his endeavors into the new bar-only tacos served at North End Grill. We say amp up the eclecticism further and wash them down with the Scotch-based Stone Fence cocktail.
What to Order: Stick to the Classics. Multiple Locations; (See the Listing) This chain, which began in Brooklyn and has expanded to two Manhattan locations, made a name for itself by doing the seemingly simple: turning out affordable, high-quality Mexican staples like the rich, tender carnitas and juicy carne asada (both pictured). The consistency more than makes up for any lack of innovation, and the strategically placed, bar-adjacent locations are welcome sights no matter where they pop up. Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Tasting-Menu Tacos 652 Union St., nr. Fourth Ave., Park Slope; 718-636-6311; (See the Listing) The best move at this Park Slope favorite is to call ahead and reserve a spot for the tasting menu that’s served at the tiny counter overlooking the kitchen — perhaps the best deal in town. The $60 menu changes nightly and spans nine courses — the highlight is a mid-meal taco break. The kitchen staff makes each fresh tortilla to order, then fills them with superlative fillings like the one you see here: fall-apart tender, slow-cooked goat with Bolivan coriander that Gautier grows in the restaurant’s rooftop garden. (If you don’t want to go all-in — or all the seats are reserved — this particular taco can also be had à la carte, for $14.)
What to Order: Anything With Seafood 805 Third Ave., nr. 49th St.; 212-751-5257; (See the Listing) This lunch-only taqueria is an addition to Richard Sandoval’s midtown altar of Mexican seafood preparations. It makes sense, then, that oceanic preparations, like the marinated shrimp or fried fish tucked into flour tortillas, are the way to go.   Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Panza con Callos de Hacha (pictured) Multiple Locations; (See the Listings) Yes, Rosa Mexicano is a multi-city chain, but we aren’t going to hold that against them given they have Jonathan Waxman consulting and offer one of the best surf-and-turf tacos that Grub Street has ever had: a pork belly and scallop version, practically fused with a spicy orange-habanero salsa. Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Make-Your-Own Tacos 311 W. 17th St., nr. Eighth Ave.; (See the Listing) Sue Torres’s standout spot in Chelsea serves first-rate tacos like tongue and shredded beef (pictured) each night, but on Sundays and Tuesdays, customers can also get a $35-per-person make-your-own spread highlighting fine-dining fillings such as maple-ancho-rubbed salmon, coriander-crusted tuna, and tamarind-glazed hanger steak.
What to Order: Al Pastor, Cabeza, Lengua 4508 Fifth Ave. at 45th St., Sunset Park; 718-871-7627; (See the Listing) When taco aficionados tell you to head to Sunset Park for the city’s best Mexican, they usually mean Matamoros. Double-stacked corn tortillas cradle tender tongue (pictured, left) and tender, fatty head meat (pictured, center). Don’t worry: Less adventurous taco-lovers can opt for the al pastor or chicken (pictured, right). Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Chorizo Breakfast Tacos 267 Elizabeth St.; 917-727-0179; (See the Listing) We’ve been singing the praises of the breakfast tacos at this truck-within-a-garage since they first started offering them — and we aren’t going to stop now. Anyone looking to grab a quick fortifying breakfast (or, more crucial, cure a hangover) would be foolish to pass up the egg-and-pepper-stuffed flour tortillas, dripping with juices from fresh chorizo (pictured, left) or the vegetarian-friendly nopales (right). Photo: Noah Fecks
What to Order: Al Pastor, Cecina (salted beef), Enchiladas (spicy pork), Barbacoa Multiple Locations; (See the Listing) The Elmhurst location has a bigger menu than the carts that grace the East Village and Williamsburg, but regardless of where you go, you’ll get classic, super-traditional fillings. They’re cheap, tasty, and the best way to end a night of drinking — everything a taco should be. Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Spicy-Tuna Taco, Short-Rib Taco (pictured) At Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg; (Takumi Taco/Twitter) With Korean tacos all but over, is it any surprise that Japanese tacos have arrived? A sushi chef from Bond St. is behind this stand, which started hitting the Smorgasburg circuit in April. Fillings like mayo-laced spicy tuna (contained in a fried dumpling skin, no less) and braised short ribs scattered with sesame seeds and wonton strips are unconventional, to say the least, but they’re also a welcome change of pace.
What to Order: Carne Asada, Lengua, Chorizo (all pictured) 76-05 Roosevelt Ave. at 76th St., Queens; 718-424-1977; (See the Listing) Open until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 4 a.m. on the weekend, Coatzingo specializes in late-night cemitas, but bargoers who skip the tacos, wrapped in tortillas and slathered with loose guacamole, are missing out. (Hey, you’re drunk. Just order both, okay?) Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Al Pastor (pictured) 4501 Fifth Ave. at 45th St., Sunset Park; 718-435-7600 The name has changed at this joint, which used to be known as Tacos Xochimilco, but the owners tell us that’s the only thing that’s changed. Fair enough: A bite of the juicy al pastor confirmed the food is as solid as ever. Photo: Noah Fecks/? Noah Fecks
What to Order: Lamb Barbacoa (pictured) Multiple Locations; (Official Site) Nixtamal’s tortillas are already considered among the best in the city (most top taco shops use them, and the shop’s name refers to the process required to turn corn to masa), so it makes sense that the tacos at the shop’s attached taqueria would be among the city’s best, too. People not up for a trip out to Corona, take note: The Nixtamalito stand at the Manhattan base of the Brooklyn Bridge makes use of all the same remarkable ingredients as the Queens location.
What to Order: You Really Can’t Go Wrong With Anything Here 695 Tenth Ave., nr. 47th St.; (See the Listing) This tiny taco window at the back of a Hell’s Kitchen deli is perhaps the best known of New York’s otherwise-under-the-radar taco shops, and for good reason: It’s easily one of the best. Pictured here (left to right) are the chicharron (pork skin), chicken with rice, and chorizo, but the options are plentiful: shredded beef, goat tripe, and perhaps the most succulent carnets in the entire city.
What to Order: Chapulinas (pictured, center) Multiple Locations; (Official Site) We know: Dried grasshoppers don’t sound like one of the best taco fillings you can find in New York, but bear with us. The crispy little critters are all about (excellent) texture, without any of the Fear Factor gross-out appeal you might expect. But even we know it might be a tough sell — You’re missing out, seriously! — which is probably why it’s a good thing this high-end mini-chain offers other options, like top-notch lobster tacos (left). For people in between, don’t miss the braised veal head with chorizo (right).
What to Order: Whirlybird Breakfast Taco (pictured) 254 S. 2nd St., nr. Havemeyer St., Williamsburg; (See the Listing) The restaurant’s signature item is a breakfast taco that combines eggs, stewed vegetables, and crumbled potato chips — and it might just be one of the craziest, best ways to start a day. But don’t take our word for it. We’ll let the Underground Gourmet, breakfast-taco experts if ever there were some, field this one: “This singular concoction is as fine to eat as it was inventively conceived, by a French-trained Ecuadoran chef entirely unshackled by rigid breakfast-taco convention.”
Tortilla Triumphs: 33 Knockout New York Tacos