Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Season Tacos

Cascabel Taqueria
1538 2nd Ave (at 80th St)
New York, NY
Columbus Circle Holiday Market!

The Holiday Season in New York is characterized by the multitude of holiday markets around Manhattan -- Union Square, Grand Central Station, and Columbus Circle are a few of my favorites. Whether you're shopping for yourself or for your friends and loved ones, there always are a multitude of gift options available at these markets.

Today, despite the 28 degree weather, my friend Molly and I ventured out to the Columbus Circle market ready to browse. I've walked past the market hundreds of times since returning to NY for the Holidays and knew that a Taqueria had set up shop within the market.

The time had come to indulge. I am back in my taco homeland.

I approached the small Cascabel Taqueria booth and my mouth began watering. Although the actual Taqueria has an more in-depth menu (including brunch and tequila), the booth was offering chicken and carnitas tacos. Fine by me. I chose the carnitas taco and could not be happier with my decision.

Cascabel uses soft corn tortillas; clearly they know tacos. And this corn tortilla held up extremely well on the walk from the market to the warmth of the Time Warner building. The simultaneously soft and crisp bite of the tortilla nicely contrasted the soft texture of the slow roasted berkshire pork butt. A perfect combination! The pork was well-flavored -- neither overwhelming nor masked by the other taco ingredients.

In my opinion, this taco was a winner because of the pickled red onions on top. With a squeeze of the small lime wedge, the zesty tartness paired with the vinegary onion taste was unbelievable. I didn't want that flavor to end!

The ingredients were fresh, my hunger was satiated, and Cascabel mastered the simplicity of Mexican street food with the sophistication of gourmet cuisine.

At the Holiday market they also sell Mexican Hot Chocolate -- una bomba! The $1 shot-glass sized cup of luscious hot chocolate with a spicy kick was the perfect way to warm up and end the meal with a sweet finish. Wow. I'll be going back for seconds. After all, there's a chicken taco I have yet to try.

Good food, great service, and the NY holiday season. It's good to be home.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cousins do Tacos!

Dos Toros
137 4th Avenue
New York, NY

For weeks I have been meaning to stop by Dos Toros. When I was working, we ended right in front of this taqueria, but at 8pm on a weeknight the place is jammed! With a line out the door I knew I had to try the food, but I would wait for a slightly tamer time.

My cousin, Jonathan, suggested I add Dos Toros to my list of visited taquerias when I told him about my blog. We made a plan and this afternoon we met at Dos Toros for lunch.

The space reminds me of BurittoVille, a local NYC chain that disbanded a few years ago and left me quick Mexican food-less for some time. The wooden tables and leather-seated stools make the place feel comfortable, homey, and conducive to a quick bite or a drawn out lunch.

I ordered 2 tacos -- one basic (rice and beans) and the other carne asada (steak) in soft corn tortillas (obviously). Watching them make the tacos at the counter allowed you to personalize it however you like. I went all in -- pico de gallo, guacamole, and hot sauce. The novelty items for these tacos was that each included cheese as a base layer for whatever else you got. Subtle, yet significant.

The tacos were jam-packed with deliciousness. The meat and toppings were overflowing, but the tortillas maintained their structure throughout the meal. The best way to describe the flavors is natural. The steak was great steak. The guac was great guac. The tortillas tasted like real corn and the rice and beans was exactly what you would hope rice and beans tastes like. The food tasted real. Plus, the hot sauce didn't burn your mouth off, but certainly added a tangy kick that pulled all the flavors together.

The basic taco, newly coined the "taco-burrito" by Jonathan, was surprisingly filling. Next time I'll skip the guac on that one for the sake of simplicity.

These tacos reminded my A LOT of Gordo Taqueria in San Francisco. As I left Dos Toros I remembered reading about a new NY taqueria opened by the brothers who came from the Bay and frequented Gordo. Guess what? That NY taqueria is Dos Toros. Here's the link to the article: Dos Toros Taqueria. Gordo gave me some of the best tacos I have had and Dos Toros is right up there with them. Now it all makes sense that Jonathan and I were sensing the good ol' California vibe from the food and the atmosphere.

Reasonably priced (we questioned how exactly they arrived at $3.67 for a taco), purely tasty, and extremely convenient (take the 4, 5, 6, N, Q, R, or L train to Union Square), Dos Toros is not a taqueria to skip over.

Thanks to Jonathan for the suggestion!

Also, they are into sustainability -- compostable forks and knives, locally raised chicken, organic beans, biodegradable cleaning products etc. Good food and good intentions. What more can you ask?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Back in NY

Hell's Kitchen
679 Ninth Ave
New York, NY

Good News: I'm back in NY where taco shops are easy to come by and tend to be pretty good. Bad News: I'm working like crazy and have not had enough time to sample all the tacos I possible can.

Despite the bad news, I managed to try some tacos the other night with my dad. We met up at Hell's Kitchen, a restaurant I've passed numerous times but had yet to dine in, and settled down for a wonderful meal.

The "corn cake" with black-bean dip they brought out as the "bread and butter" to whet our appetites was scrumptious. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of texture and temperature (heat and spice) that the dip provided.

My dad and I split an appetizer...some seafood tostada. (Of course I am blogging a little late and the online menu seems to have changed from my visit thus limiting the specificity of my post; but a good sign that they keep updating their food!) Delicious and perfectly proportioned.

I ordered skirt steak tacos, excited to re-taco my life. All in all, the flavors were great and I enjoyed the dish. I thought the meat was a bit chewy and the large strips made it slightly difficult to eat. However, the corn tortillas stayed in tact and the greens added a beautiful crunch to the taco.

As we enjoyed the meal I learned that the owners of Hell's Kitchen also own El Centro, a fave spot of mine just a few blocks North. No wonder I was content.

More tacos to come!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Taco Adventure!

Taqeuria Hernandez
6983 N. Clark Ave
Chicago, IL

After many months without a taco my hiatus is up.

It started with the idea for a spontaneous bike ride with my friends Emily and Doug and ended in a taco tour through Roger's Park, Chicago. Unfortunately, Emily had to miss out on our taco eating, but got to come along for the ride.

We started in Evanston and made our way down Chicago Ave which turns into N. Clark Ave. After biking through Roger's Park we decided to go a bit further, into Edgewater and Andersonville, to see if there was one particular taco shop that stood out. We didn't find one so back to RP we biked. I told Doug to stop at any place that looked appetizing and by the time both our stomachs began grumbling, we hit Taqueria Hernandez. We locked our bikes outside and entered into the long-forgotten world of yummy tacos.

For my re-introduction I decided to keep it simple. I ordered one chicken and one steak taco and marveled at the simplicity of the space -- approximately twelve red-and-white checkerboard covered tables in neat rows with a few sombreros and pieces of Mexican art adorning the walls.

Our food came quickly and based on the look of the corn tortillas I had a feeling this would be good. I love when you can see the texture of the tortilla and it's slightly rough edges screamed "home made" to me. The red spicy salsa/sauce had a bit too much kick for me, so I opted for the mild, but not so mild, green salsa.

The specifics and intricacies of each taco's taste have escaped me in the 60 minutes since I ate them, but I know one thing -- they know how to make a good taco! They were simple. The meat was well cooked. The tortillas DID NOT fall apart (despite the tomatoes that adorned the taco) and I was oh so satisfied upon completion.

There are so many taquerias along Clark Ave. that I think it only fair to test a few more before returning to Taqueria Hernandez, but I will return. That is for sure!

(I took 2 pictures using Doug's camera phone. Hopefully they turned out OK and I will have them soon to add!)

Thursday, February 25, 2010


445 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL

Mexican Fine-Dining. The Obama's favorite Chi-town restaurant. TopChef Master. The number of words and phrases that spring to mind when I think of Topolobampo are endless.

My mouth is still watering just thinking about the experience.

Wednesday. 9pm. Julia, Ben, Maddy. Heaven.

What is interesting about Topolobampo is it is connected to Frontera Grill, Rick Bayless' other Chicago restaurant that gets just as much hype at Topolo (that's what locals call it). Although the menu at Frontera look equally as appetizing, the cozy room of Topolo made the experience one of grandeur and comfort.

The decor and service were great (Whitney was a fantastic waitress and so accommodating to my gluten-free lifestyle), but let's cut to the most important part: the food.

We decided to go with the Celebration Tasting Menu along with some a la carte options to make sure we had a well rounded experience. And don't you just love a restaurant that lets you combine the two?

The meal started out with their freshly made guacamole (complete with pine nuts!). Rather than being served along side tortilla chips, Topolo goes for cucumber and jicama slices. This makes for a really fresh, vibrant, and crisp combo. Plus, I absolutely LOVE jicama, so I was a happy camper.

We had the Trio, Trio, Trio of ceviche to start us off. The combo of three of their ceviches had a nice balance. The ceviche yucateco was my favorite of the three -- the shrimp and calamari combo with lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama and cilantro salsa was so easy to eat. We drank the sauce remnants they were so good! The ceviche with sun dried tomatoes had more of an Italian rather than Mexican taste. But it was still delicious! My least favorite was the Ceviche de atun "chamoy". The sauce was a spicy red chile-apricot salsa. Yes, it was a bit spicy, but also overwhelmingly smoky. It reminded me of Lapsang Souchong teas. Tuna tartar was my first foray into seafood years ago and so I was a bit disappointed with this tuna dish.

Next came the oysters. I have had oysters once before Topolo and went for the "don't taste it just swallow method". This time I tried to be more adventurous and actually chew the oysters. The cucumber and ginger toppings were quite good and masked the fishiness of the oyster. It felt a little like I was eating the ocean....with come cucumber and ginger mixed in. I'm going to stick with my original method for oyster eating.

One of my favorite dishes of the night were the Mochomos. The description from the menu ("crunchy threads of beef brisket (made from braised Tallgrass grass-fed brisket) with crispy onion strings, garlicky guacamole, spicy salsa roja and warm tortillas for making soft tacos") made me curious. Crunchy threads of brisket? My experiences with brisket is "wet meat", more of a chunky stew-like meat than crunchy threads. This brisket was INCREDIBLE. The combination of crunch of meat, warm soft tortillas, smooth guacamole and the kick of the salsa made this a complete mini-meal in one! It falls right into the "taco" category and I wanted more and more.

We continued on to the tamal, described as a polenta-like corn masa tamal. I was expecting my traditional corn masa in a corn husk, but this was three little tamal forms each with different toppings. The bright green color from the Oaxacan green mole was beautiful. My favorite was the tamal with peas -- I enjoyed the contrast of textures between the peas and the creamy tamal. Certainly not my favorite, but something I would consider trying again.

One of the more memorable dishes, the Frijol con Borrego, was a roasted lamb in a black bean sauce with a fingerling potato confit. Also, lamb belly. Wow, was this good! We had more freshly made corn tortillas on the table so I made a supreme lamb taco with all the ingredients. The lamb was perfectly cooked and complimented by the black bean sauce. And the belly was succulent, and fatty and utterly delicious. Plus, the potatoes added a starchiness that kept the fatty belly and spicy sauce from becoming too overbearing. I may have to say this is the dish that had the greatest impression on me.

Perhaps the most disappointing dish was the scallops in a cinnamon and almond "horchata sauce". There was a sweetness to the sauce which, in my opinion, seemed out of place with the scallops (and the other main dishes). I really enjoyed the freshness of the scallops, but was not crazy about their surroundings. My sister, on the other hand, did enjoy them (and the sweetness of the sauce!)

Just slightly below the lamb in my ranking of the dishes is the rock hen with tomato arbol chile broth. The accompanying black bean gelatin worked so well to tie the different flavors from the the hen and broth together. Not to mention that the hen was perfectly cooked! This was another dish that we fully consumed -- cleaning the plate with tortillas to get every little morsel of sauce!

The dessert. 'Nuff said. Dark chocolate cake bites with "black mole" chocolate sauce, cocoa nib ice cream, pomegranate jellies, ancho chile chocolate cookie. As if a meal could not get any better. The cake was great, but putting the cocoa ice cream and pom jellies together was fantastic. It an adult version of an ice cream sundae. And the kids really don't know what they are missing.

All in all, Topolo was one of the better meals I've experienced. I must go back. (And therefore make my reservation now!)

Rick Bayless, you are a genius!

By the way, we saw him!! He came to say hi to a friend at the table next to us and my sister was about 1 foot away from the one and only. We were slightly star-struck.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dreams Come True


I have heard great things about Rick Bayless' Fine Dining Mexican Restaurant and have been pining to go since I started calling Chicago my 2nd home. When my sister visited in October, we attempted to walk in and dine, but there was a 3 hour wait. Yes, 3 hours!

It must be good.

Now, it's February, and the Mexican dining Gods are working in my favor and I am going to Topolobampo on Wednesday. Stay tuned for a review!

Here's what Zagat says:
Surveyors swear you get the “best high-end Mexican food in Chicago” (or perhaps “anywhere”), “crafted from the freshest ingredients”, at “creative” “celebrity chef” Rick Bayless’ “must-go” River North “treasure”, the “upscale sister to Frontera Grill” (“with prices to match”); its “cheerful” servers are “extremely knowledgeable”, and the “fantastic wine pairings” and “awesome” margaritas are “standouts” as well; just know that the “intimate”, art-filled “white-tablecloth” setting is “always crowded”, so “make your reservations early.”

NYT Travel Review

Oh, I just cannot wait!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tacos in The Times

The New York Time's review on Dos Toros Taqueria in NYC. The brothers who opened the shop are big fan of Gordo Taqueria in San Francisco -- one of my favorite taco experiences thus far.

Glad the Bay area is coming to the East coast and I look forward to trying my own Dos Toros taco!