Restaurant Talk: Tacos in NYC

I didn’t set out to eat tacos in New York City, but I happened to be there on May 5 weekend, and you guys, tacos are super trendy in New York. On our first day there, my Texan pal Nick D. told us we should try Habana Outpost in Fort Greene Brooklyn. Since it was recommended by a Texan, a Houstonite no less, we decided to stop in after walking all those blocks from the Union Hotel, where we stayed.

Looks good, right? Yeah, not so much.

What’s interesting about Habana Outpost is that it’s basically Taco Cabana. Not the same menu, but very similar concepts. It’s Mexican fast food (not sure why the Cuba reference) with beer and frozen margaritas. There’s a patio with picnic tables, and the atmosphere is almost suburban. I ordered one pork taco and one chicken taco with a beer. It was happy hour, and my whole meal was under $8.

The pork was so dry, I was afraid I might break a tooth. After a couple bites, I actually found little bits of bone and almost did break a tooth. I so totally would’ve sued them in a Texas state district court, but I was able to oh-s0-gracefully fish the bone fragments out of my mouth before they caused dental damage.

By the time I got to the chicken taco, I just couldn’t. It was like, Tyson frozen chicken chunks or something. I don’t know, but for sure very, very not good.

So what happened is that I had these terrible tacos right off the bat in New York, so I resolved to find at least one good taco during the four-day trip. Admittedly, it was a half-assed effort. Friends recommended a couple of taco places in … Soho? The Village? It all becomes kind of a blur … and I didn’t make it to either one. The only one of those I remember is called Pinche Taqueria. We didn’t have their tacos, but we snacked on their Yucca fries at Botanica Bar one night, and they were amazing. Someone in Dallas, please get on that.

Next on the half-hearted taco tour, we visited Smorgasburg, the food flea market organized by Brooklyn Flea. We tried these tacos, ordered from a very serious 20-something whose mom was cooking the tortillas. I ordered one pork, one chorizo, and they cost two for $7. The chorizo was pretty good, but I noticed that taco places in New York want to put like, a cup of shredded ice-berg lettuce and out-of-season tomatoes on top. No me gusta! I ordered mine without the salad bar and then added spoonfuls of green and red salsa, which later set my face on fire. Evidently, this was the only spicy salsa in New York.

My apologies for this disgusting picture.

Here is a nicer one from the waterfront park in Williamsburg, where we ate.

Photo by Melissa Thrailkill

After wandering around Williamsburg waiting for a pal to get off work, we stopped into San Loco. This is another Taco Cabana, which bills itself as “gringo Mex.” It’s basically Taco Bell with a bar.

Just look at that green tomato and ketchup sauce.

Whatever. It wasn’t that bad. I did not eat that sad little tomato-like wedge. At this point, I started to lose hope that I would ever find a good taco. It was Sunday, and I wasn’t going back to the city for the recommended tacos, but there was one last hope. A taco truck at Union Pool.

At last, I thought I had found good tacos. Don’t they look good? That’s one chorizo and one pastor, the first time I’d found it on a menu in New York. I ordered them in English, and I didn’t put any cash in the tip jar. Call me cheap, whatever, why am I s’posed to tip for tacos? That is foreign to me. The cool guy behind me looked me up and down, then ordered two pupusas, loudly, in Spanish and wafted a couple of bills into the tip jar. Whatever, nerd. As it turns out, if you don’t tip, they won’t give you any napkins. Whatever, taco guy, I am from the South; I carry a hanky.

These tacos tasted of not much. Several times, my tacos in New York came with this lovely looking salsa that tastes like … not much. That’s typical, the pal Ali tells me. “It’s like that everywhere in New York,” she says. “No one has good salsa.”


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