New York City Mexican Food Challenge: Any Tips?

There’s a place on 16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero in San Francisco where you can get one, delicious soft-sided taco for $2.95. It comes with fresh salsa, grilled chicken, onions, radishes — and a heaping portion of homemade tortilla chips. Get two of those babies and an horchata, and you are good to go for the night.

Every hood in San Francisco has its own taqueria highlight, especially the Mission, Outer Mission, Excelsior and Bernal Heights. I grew up taking them for granted.

No more. After a year in New York, I have not been to a really good Mexican or Central American restaurant in the city that supposedly has everything.  (I have been to some pretty terrible ones. Think the Amsterdam Chevy’s, if that exists. I found a place like that on Flatbush.)

On Saturday night I made the mistake of getting hopeful. I was on Houston and went to a little joint named El Paso. The owners made an effort to have a nice classy feel, and the waiters wore ties tucked into their shirts above little aprons. Prices were commensurate with the location and ambiance. They were not, unfortunately, commensurate with the food: cheesy and lacking spice. The salsa looked like bean soup. The meal was preceded by a salad (?) of iceberg lettuce with “Italian” dressing.

Then I realized: There is a taqueria in a car wash in San Francisco that serves better Mexican food than the best Mexican restaurant I have been to in New York City. I’m talking about Bayshore and Army/César Chávez right there at the intersection of Bernal, Bayview, Mission and Potrero.

What’s the deal, people? New Yorkers say I’m hating. There’s a taco truck in Queens that does it right, they say. I don’t know, but I think a taco that takes an hour to get to doesn’t count. Does that mean there’s nothing in the island of Manhattan?

I invite my ten regular readers to submit some suggestions, because I’m at a loss. And please don’t recommend the spot on Amsterdam and 108th. It’s close, but I’m looking for the real thing. I’ll privilege suggestions from Californians living in NYC.

7 thoughts on “New York City Mexican Food Challenge: Any Tips?

  1. El Balazito (at Cesar Chavez and Bayshore Blvd) has one small grill and takes up the space of one do-it-yourself bay at the car wash. Cooking those tacos probably takes about 10 minutes, chopping the salsa another ten. Why not set up a little spot next to SIPA in your spare moments, Ingredients can be sent from the west coast.

    Joe

  2. My suggestion: let it go, brosef. California’s take on Mexican cuisine is unique and beautiful and it should be something you look forward to returning to – not something to be replaced with an imitation. Plus, once you let it go you can fill that vacancy with all the great food NY has to offer that you won’t find back here. Any good chow coming down south from the Canucks?

    🙂

  3. Ive been living in the city for a long time, and on a similar quest. Thus far the best ive had is cafe el portal on elisebeth st

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