Thursday, August 27, 2009

Secret Taco Deli

Tehuitzingo Deli & Grocery Inc.
695 10th Avenue
New York, NY

When meeting up with Michael Melamedoff, writer and director of "Weakness", there was no question that we would go for tacos. Michael suggested the "secret taco deli" on 10th Ave at 47th street and the mystery of the place enticed me.

Entering into Tehuitzingo I was confused. It looked just like a deli, no tacos around. But if you step beyond the front counter and refrigerators filled with Jarritos sodas, you find a little secret taco deli. At the back of the narrow room you approach a small window and place your order. The menu has many pork offerings along with your typical chicken, rice and beans, and steak tacos. They even have goat tacos! I followed my heart and ordered a carnitas taco and steak taco. In my taco adventures these have been the most rewarding. And in the spirit of trying something new, I took Michael's suggestion and ordered a chorizo con papas (sausage with potatoes) taco. At $2.50 each, the splurge for three tacos was completely worth it.

With my lime Jarritos in hand, Michael and I headed to the park across the street to enjoy our freshly made tacos. The were simple and traditional -- the way I love them. Topped only with cilantro and chopped onion, each taco tasted incredible. I ate the carnitas taco first. The pork was drier than I expected, but with enough salsa on top (I prefer the green tomatillo salsa), the taco was quite enjoyable. Steak was taco #2 and boy, oh boy, was it delicious! Whatever the steak was cooked in or with added tremendous flavor. It took a mere 3 bites for me to finish the taco. The most interesting taco, however, was the chorizo y papas that I saved for last. The flavor of the soft potatoes in combination with the mild spice of the chorizo made for an complete flavor palette. The double tortilla wrapping held up nicely for all three tacos and the slight sweetness of the corn tortilla added to the mouthful of flavors. Fantastic food and even better company. I was so happy.

This secret taco deli is a gem. I could easily become a regular. Do try this place if you are in New York. I will go as far to say you should make a special trip to Tehuitzingo if you are travelling the city in search of tacos. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Me encanta Los Mets

El Verano Taqueria
Citi Field
Flushing, NY

Since I started blogging many people have recommended a number of taco joints worthy of my review and many of these places are in Queens, NY. I (unfortunately) do not make it out to Queens very often, but Saturday night was special.

To honor the World Champion 1969 Mets, the 2009 Mets had a pre-game celebration at Citi Field (the new Shea Stadium). Being a life-long Mets fan I was extremely excited to have a look at the team from way back when, but also the real perk lay in Citi Field's new dining concourse. Hot dogs, pretzels, and cotton candy are still available at Citi Field, but you can also opt for Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, Box Frites, and many more higher-end options. My favorite: El Verano Taqueria.

Eating tacos at a baseball game.

I was in heaven.

And they were good, too! Julia, my dad, and I went for the taco trio -- chicken mole pipian, chile-marinate skirt steak, and carnitas, while my friend, Ellen, kept it simple with two chicken tacos. Each taco came with a different sauce/salsa -- mole, tomatillo, and tomato-chipotle salsa -- and I found that a dip of each sauce made for the most delectable combination.

I'm beginning to find that chicken tacos can get a little boring. Although this particular chicken taco was very good, it did not compare with the flavors of the steak and carnitas taco. There was more depth to the taste of the other meats making them overall more satisfying. I'm hesitant to make such a leap into my love affair with pork, but I do believe that the carnitas taco was my favorite. By far. I enjoyed the texture of the tender pork and the sweetness that was balanced by the kick of the salsa.

These tacos were fantastic, especially considering they were ballpark food. I am uber content with El Verano Taqueria and will return to Citi Field, not just for the Mets, but for the tacos. Yum.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Partial Redemption

The Original California Taqueria
187 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY

My Taco House experience left me very unsatisfied in the taco world, so the following day I was in search of redemption.

The outside of The Original California Taqueria was enticing, very authentic looking. I figured anything was better than the Taco House disaster.
I ordered a fish taco (my first ever!) with sauteed tilapia and a barbacoa taco (shredded beef). Hesitant to try the fish taco, the smell of freshly sauteed tilapia and the cilantro from the pico de gallo drew me right in. I enjoyed the new taste of a fish taco, but this taco was missing something. Maybe cheese? Hot sauce? I couldn't quite pin-point it. However, I did come to the realization that adding tomatoes or pico de gallo ups the mess factor ten-fold. Thank God for the two soft corn tortillas holding my taco together. If you want to add the tomatoes to your taco, eat in the restaurant so you are not eating on your lap with taco filling flying about around you. I was having trouble handling the mess and coping with the missing flavor so I put the fish taco down and moved over to the barbacoa.

The beef was delicious! In comparison to my salty chicken taco from Taco House, I was in heaven. Yet again, I felt like it was missing something. After pondering the missing taco ingredient conundrum I came to the conclusion that I had been in too much of a rush -- ordering my tacos to go and rushing out as soon as they were ready. I did not give myself adequate time to add hot sauce (they had my favorite, Tapatio sauce, available), tomatillo salsa, or even some salt and pepper.

These tacos were good, not great. I will go back to try my new strategy at The Original California Taqueria because I see great potential.

And a plus for all those of age, the taqueria has a huge selection of beer and wine to accompany your taco, if you so choose.

Never Again

Taco House
178 Church St.
New York, NY

The Taco House is a fast-food-Chinese-restaurant-turned-taqueria. Not a good combination. I took a chance at The Taco House. Fooled by the letter posted in the storefront window by a customer praising the service and food quality, and compelled by an intense taco craving, I settled for a Taco House lunch on Wednesday. I wish I had curbed my craving one more day.

The chicken was dry and much too salty. The hard taco shell (I should have known that having only hard taco shells was a bad sign) was stale. The tomato and lettuce did not improve the situation; they made the stale shell into a soggy mess. I could continue describing the horrendous taco, however I will spare myself the memory. My hunger pushed me through to finish the taco, but not with pleasure.

And the guacamole was far from the proper shade of green.

DO NOT eat at Taco House. I do not know if they have any loyal customers, but I will not be one of them.

Perhaps the burritos are better? I do not care to try.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Surprisingly Disappointed

Burrito Box
885 9th Avenue
New York, NY

I frequent Burrito Box on a regular basis. It's fast, (usually) delicious, and won't leave a huge dent in your wallet. I have been looking forward to my most recent trip to Burrito Box because I could finally blog about tacos I rely on. I walked by Burrito Box at 2pm (thinking I had missed the lunch crowd) and was shocked to see a line out the door. Unwilling to wait, I wandered around to build up my appetite and returned to a much calmer Burrito Box at 2:45. To veer away from my usual I ordered the chili con carne tacos, two tacos per order. Unfortunately, Burrito Box only has hard corn tortillas for their tacos (the only soft tortillas are flour). I've learned to live with the crispy taco shells because the filling is just so good, but yesterday was a different story.

I set myself up for a mediocre taco -- ordering something new, taking a risk, not sticking with what I know best. And I got what I deserved! The taco Chili is a difficult taco filling because of the inherent slop factor and the added difficulty of a soggy taco shell did not make for a fun experience. I loved the hot sauces and the complimentary chips and salsa, but beyond that I could not finish the second taco. It is difficult to blame Burrito Box on my bad taco experience because I think my strategy, trying something new, was the problem.

I will return to Burrito Box. But I will most likely order the chicken tacos and stay clear of chili con carne.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Not Quite Tacos

Yes, I am obsessed with tacos. But I also love all Mexican food, particularly because they seem to use the same ingredients rearranged in different ways to produce entirely different flavors. Also, the abundant use of corn (i.e. corn tortillas) makes it easy for me to eat gluten-free.

Empanada Mama
763 9th Avenue
New York, New York

As a counselor for Northwestern University's Project Wildcat, a new student pre-orientation outdoor program, I must be certified in CPR and First Aid. So yesterday, during my 45-minute lunch break from the Red Cross CPR/First Aid certification class, I wandered the somewhat familiar area of 9th Ave between 49th and 53rd looking for a good taco. Scared that the more I searched the less I would find, I ducked into Empanada Mama, a place packed with both businessmen and passersby. I grabbed to 'to-go' menu and although I did not find any tacos on the menu, I was delighted to find they had corn flour empanadas. Empanadas have always been "street food" to me, easy to eat, delicious, and probably not the healthiest option. I had not indulged in an empanada in months and the words "corn flour" made not ordering one feel like an atrocity. The chorizo empanada (Spanish sausage) sounded most enjoyable and daring (I now enjoy being daring with my food). In addition to empanadas, they also serve arepas, small corn cake/patties topped with a variety of ingredients. The shredded beef arepa was recommended to me by the cashier so I followed the suggestions and ordered a mint lemonade to wash it all down.

Unfortunately, due to the busy lunch crowd, I waited quite a while for my food. The tiny restaurant with a kitchen and bathroom shoved behind the numerous two-top tables, counter, and cashier seemed to be handling the national economic crisis very well. After the near 20 minute way for my lunch, I chose to eat an empanada the way I envisioned it -- on the street. Walking back to the CPR class I attempted to gracefully eat the chorizo empanada while dipping in the delicious red and green hot sauces. The grace was quickly abandoned and I thoroughly enjoyed the green hot sauce -- almost a spicy, cilantro pesto -- combined with the spicy sausage. I did not expect such a crispy outside to the empanada and, mostly for ease of eating, I would have preferred something softer (and maybe even sweeter, in juxtaposition with the spicy sausage).

The mint lemonade lacked the minty punch I was craving for, but the sweetness of the drink was on par. I was glad the actual taste of lemon juice was not overwhelmed by sweeteners. But I do not think I will order it again.

The beef arepa was the highlight of my lunch. It was like eating a Mexican Sloppy Joe. The beef was wet and saucy and the arepa "bun" provided the perfect dry compliment to the meet. The green hot sauce went ALL over the meat. I even double dipped -- combining the green and red sauces in one bite.

Although not quite tacos, the food was still good. I doubt I will become a regular, but it is great to know about when in the neighborhood.

Yet I still craved Mexican food...

El Centro
824 9th Avenue
New York, New York

My dad discovered this Cocina y Cantina Mexicana a few years back when we first moved into the neighborhood. Since then it had been my go-to for affordable, reliable, and incredible Mexican food in my 'hood. Yet with the newly established status as Taco Blogger I had not frequented my local. Around 8:30pm my dad and I made our way to El Centro and we were shocked to find that on a Tuesday night it was PACKED! For the first time in my El Centro enhance life, I waited at the bar for a table. Moments after the chips and salsa (with the perfect amount of appetizing heat) were set in front of us a table was ready.

Looking through the familiar menu I knew I wanted to try something new -- not my standard chicken chilaquiles or steak taco. The other tacos looked interesting, but the grilled shrimp chilaquiles jumped out at me. Chilaquiles, a discovery made at El Centro, are the Mexican casserole -- a combination of corn tortillas topped with avocado, pico de gallo, queso blanco, and crema fresca. Because I adored the ease of chilaquiles, the fact that everything was compiled in one bowl with no need for assembly before eating, it was easy to continue experimenting in my love affair with shrimp. To no surprise, I loved it! The mole negro sauce did not overpower and take away from the dish, it added a subtle (and unexpected) hint of cacao. I ate and ate until there was no more, and considering the hefty portions at El Centro, I surprised myself.

It will take a complete and utter fiasco to stop me from returning to El Centro. Just reminiscing on the experience makes me miss it. And not just the food! The decor is bright and fun -- light fixtures made from Corona bottles, tables with caps from different beers, metal trinkets lining the walls -- and the laid-back atmosphere makes it a place tolerable any night.
The picture accompanying this post is of my sister, Julia, at one of our first visits to El Centro. You get a feel for the decor.

Go to El Centro, you cannot go wrong.

Maybe you'll even find me there, too!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Taco Trio

Boxcar Cantina
44 Old Field Point Road
Greenwich, CT

Saturday night in Larchmont, NY and I'm craving Mexican food.

My mom, sister and I decide to upgrade from our local taco stand to Boxcar Cantina, an authentic Northern New Mexican restaurant, in Greenwich (20 minutes outside Larchmont).

There were only two taco options on the menu, hard and soft tacos. To maintain continuity with my taco travels, I went for the soft tacos (requesting corn tortillas to keep it gluten-free). The soft taco plate came with three tacos--chicken, pork, and shrimp.

A quick side note -- a few weeks ago I never would have ordered such a dish. I did not like shrimp and pork gave me the heebeegeebees. However, in San Francisco, with Chase and his family, I discovered I indeed DO like shrimp and pork tacos can be quite enjoyable. So this soft taco plate fulfilled my love of tacos and my new food adventures.

Back to the tacos. I was skeptical at first, the tacos arrived with only one tortilla (as opposed to the double tortilla taco wrapping found at most restaurants/taco stands). I tasted shrimp first, adding black beans, Spanish rice, and pico de gallo on top of the shrimp and shredded cheese. Wow! The grilled shrimp with a Cajun-y spice kept the taco light and refreshing, a nice taste for a summer meal. Next stop, the chicken taco which was surprisingly disappointing. All in all it was tasty, but after the mouth-watering combination of flavors present in the shrimp taco, the chicken was bland. I stopped mid-way through in order to try #3, the pork taco. If someone told me that pork tasted like my mom's brisket, I'd have surrendered myself to pork years ago. The sweet pork was properly balanced with the flavor of rice and beans. My only complaint was the "wet" meat made for a messy taco, one that could have used a second tortilla to help control the overflow.

I was too full (and satisfied) to finish the pork and chicken tacos, but brought then home to finish as a late-night snack. Even after a few hours in the refrigerator, the tacos were great.

Beyond the tacos, the food at Boxcar Cantina is totally worth a trip to Greenwich. Those in the mood for authentic Mexican can satisfy their craving at Boxcar and it also appeals to the less adventurous Mexican cuisine eaters. Four stars in my book; I will certainly be back.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

San Francisco Tacos

1239 9th Ave
2252 Clement St
450 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA

While visiting my friend, Chase, in the Bay Area, I knew it was crucial to get a taste of West coast tacos. Unwilling to settle for just any taco, we crossed the Golden Gate bridge returning from our adventure in Marin and back in the city of San Francisco we ventured to Gordo Taqueria, a little taco shop nestled on a block of banks, Japanese restaurants and, of course, Starbucks.

Walking into Gordo you get the feeling of authenticity. The smell of beans, cheese, and deliciously cooked meat is overwhelming and your mouth starts watering. We waited on line for about 5 minutes observing the behind counter expertise of crafting a burrito for the patrons in front of us. Then our turn! Chase was more adventurous than I and ordered (in Spanish) un taco de carnitas tacos (pulled pork). For consistency purposes I went with pollo (chicken).

Then I learned what keeps people coming back to Gordo. On top of two warmed corn tortillas went black beans (or red, or refried depending on your preference), pico de gallo, a mound of meat, and sour cream. The tacos were muy gordos. As many taco lover know, eating such a full and fabulous taco can be quite messy; the team at Gordo has developed a great solution. The taco is wrapped in paper to its mid-point giving you adequate holding space and a little more control over the taco overflow. Although some chicken, beans and sour cream did escape my taco I could not complain (and personally, I think the runaway ingredients somehow taste better.)--the tortillas were soft, yet not soggy from the beans of pico de gallo, the chicken was succulent, and by the end I was full.

As my only San Francisco taco experience this argument is not well researched, however in comparison with the East coast tacos, the West coast knows what's up.

Although not a taqueria or Mexican restaurant by any means, we did also dine at Mission Beach Cafe at 198 Guerrero Street, and it is worth mentioning. If they had one in New York I'd eat there daily. While in the Bay Area try and grab a meal at Mission Beach Cafe and order the truffle fries -- an unforgettable experience.