Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Me Palenque (154 East 112th Street, New York, NY 10029)

I came by this place mostly by accident and, despite the giant orange awning hanging over the storefront, I still almost walked right past the thing.  Something about posters covering the windows and a dark interior inside Spanish Harlem usually says 'not welcome'.  On the other hand, it also says 'delicious tacos', and the flashing neon open sign was enough reassurance that I could get some lunch.  So in we go!
 The interior was dimly lit, very spacious, and completely empty with a pool table at each end of the dining area and a collection of tacky sombreros on the wall. 
Apparently these windows are not for looking through

Very promising.  There was also a small convenient store section tucked into the corner of the restaurant and hidden behind thick bullet proof glass.  Not exactly sure what that was about.  The staff was friendly and helpful and there were a few extra friends or family members that walked through the doors every now and then just to hang out or shoot pool with the employees.  A very comfortable family-owned-business atmosphere, but let's get to what's important.

The Taco: 4/5
They were actually pretty freakin' good.  It was good to have some truly authentic tacos with nothing more than good meats, cilantro, onions, and nicely crisped double wrapped corn tortillas.  My only complaint was that they offered a number of good looking options for the taco fillings and I could only choose two for my three taco meal.  I chose the Carne Asada (of course) and the Carne Enchilada which was some sort of mystery mix of well marinated and delicious goodness.  The Carne Asada was tasty and greasy, a little chewy at times and could have been marinated better, but it was good.  Some bites had the kind of spectacular flavor that make you take a moment to pause and savor their delicate goodness.  
The Carne Enchilada, however, was a much more consistent flavor.  The marinade is excellent and the texture was better as well, my only regret was that I couldn't try more of the specialty meats to see if the other marinades were just as good.  I'm thinking probably so.  I did think the meat/tortilla ratio was a little off, the tortillas were thick and so was the meat, but I like it better when both are in smaller proportion.  I removed one of the double wrapped tortillas and they were much better.

Value: 3/5
Three tacos for $7, not bad at all.  And the portions were large enough that they were a full meal plus some.  Definitely the kind of place that you will waddle away from.

 Acoutrement: 4/5
This is where they really shined, they offered two different sauces for the tacos, one orange and one green, as well as a separate salsa for the chips in the beginning.  The chip's salsa was a delicious, well balanced combo of peppers, tomato, onion, and cilantro.  An authentic classic with just the right amount of spice to add to the taste but not take away from the whole flavor experience.
The other sauces were both good, but for completely different reasons.  The green salsa had an inexplicable...green flavor.  Very fresh tasting, almost like grass.  This could be my hippy west coast roots talking, but it tasted a bit like grass in a good way.  Serano chiles, onion, pepper, and seeds.  It's fresh and it's hot.  Very hot.  The orange was a smokey habaƱero salsa with a thick and peppery texture.  At first I tried it with the chips and wasn't too impressed, but once I put it on the tacos itself the overly smokey flavor smoothed out perfectly to add and enhance the deliciousness. 

Overall: 4/5
If there weren't a billion other places to try in this town, I'd definitely come back here, especially to try all the different types of meat fillings.  If you happen to be in the neighborhood and have a hankering for some tacos and a game of pool, stop by this place.