Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Taqueria Lower East Side (198 Orchard st. and Houstan)

Here's the deal, anyone can put together some greasy shlock in a corn tortilla and call it a taco, but it takes true care and artistry to make that folded bit of starch and lipids a delectable delight.  It takes more than just cooking talent, it takes soul.  Taqueria of the Lower East Side, I take my hat off to you.

To be fair, I was skeptical at first.  This area of the lower east side seems completely devoid of any sort of Latin flavor, it's a white-washed-too-cool-for-school-tragically-hip area populated by what are most likely recent NYU grads, my least favorite sub-species of New Yorker.  The combination of an amazing offensive woods statue depicting a 'traditional' Mexican and Ferris Bueller's Day Off playing on the TVs with some generic indie rock in the background didn't help my prejudice either, but I figured it's my job to try it anyway, so in I went.  
The Stunningly Racially Insensitive Statue
The menu seemed decent and continually insisted on the restaurant's authenticity (measured by the lack of sour cream on the menu; I think it's mentioned 4 or 5 separate times), but it was only when they served an initial basket of chips and salsa that my opinion changed.   They were thick homemade chips with a killer salsa piquante that was flavored and spicy as hell.  And then came the tacos.

The Taco: 5/5
I wasn't sure where to start since I ordered a smattering of Cactus (napolitos), Chorizo, Bistec, and Barbacoa (lamb).  I figured I'd start with the cactus since that would probably suck the most.  The Heaven's opened, my friends, and little taco shaped angels came pouring through and into my mouth.  I nearly wept with joy, partly because of the spicy salsa, partly because it had been so long since I'd had a decent taco, but also because of the soul-stirring combination of crispy pan-fried tortilla and greasy meat.  The pounding flavor of spice and lipids was an onslaught of deliciousness, and it was only then that I knew the taco culture of NY had finally been redeemed.  The Lamb was perfectly marinated without that distinct and pungent lamb taste, the Chorizo had great definition of flavor, and the Bistec was pretty darn good too, though not the feature.  I can't wait to try all the other flavors they have including picadillo, pescado, and cecina. 

At long last, real honest to god street tacos in NY
Acoutrement:  4/5
The toppings were actually quite good, just not huge in range.  All tacos were served with cilantro, onion, and lime, some with crema fresca or cotija as well, and all with a homemade salsa piquante.  I'd have liked a traditional salsa bar with some piquante options, but I'll live without it.  The tortillas were excellent, not too big and nicely pan-fried to a perfect crispiness just the way mama used to make it, if mama had been a mexican seƱora.

Value: 4/5
You're gonna spend about $10 here plus drinks, which is pretty good for what you get, but it's not exactly dollar taco amazing.  The average taco is $2.50 with some going to $3, reasonable for tacos in NY if you are getting quality.  3 or 4 make a good meal, though you might be tempted to eat more just because it's so freakin' good.
Didn't understand the puppets, but I understand the drink.

Other: 3/5
Staff was very friendly and they have fun decorations with a largely California theme plus a couple hanging marionettes that I didn't really get.  Just watch out as the clientele will largely be hipsters or people looking for tacos after painting the town red. 

Overall: 5/5
It's the real deal people, it's the kind of place you write home about and then insist on taking your friends because you finally found the best tacos in NY.  Doesn't mean I won't stop looking, but so far they've got everything else in the area beat hands-down.