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Jul 17, 2000 12:22 PM

a real taco stand - in Manhattan!

  • p

Hi, just alerting everyone that recently on Sunday afternoons, on 14th Street on the north side of the street between 7th and 8th Aves., a couple of authentic taco stands have set up shop. It started out as one trailer, now there are 3, including a tamale & juice stand. For those of you who have lived in L.A., or in my case, Austin, you sorely miss these outfits when you move to NYC. The tamale was dry, good chicken filling, but the beef taco was right on the mark. I didn't like the gordita particularly, but that was the crowd favorite, so what do I know. OK, now I've tipped you off, now ... who's going to let me in on a decent (i.e. greasy) miga spot in the borough of Manhattan?

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  1. What are the taco's like, What did you like about them and how are they prepared? What's a miga?
    Also - any suggestions for a great taco sauce as oppose to a salsa? My friend was asking me this awhile back.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Michele

      Here in Portland (and in most other western US towns with significant Latino populations), most of the taquerias (aka taco stands) serve a variant of the oaxacan taco: two corn tortillas, both heated briefly in a small amount of oil on the grill, then placed oily-sides together, one of several meat fillings (carne asada, carnitos, barbacoa, lengua, pastor, pollo), chopped raw onion, a sprinkle of fresh cilantro. Radishes are served alongside, and both red and green chile salsa are available. The standard price is a buck!


    2. There has been discussion about these trucks (the orange, blue and white ones -- are there others?) on this board. Do a search.

      There are apparently great taquerias in East Harlem on 116th if you know where to go. I'll try to get Nils to do a post.

      In the meantime, go just a few stops further on the #6 train to 163rd St./Hunts Point Ave. in the Bronx and experience the sublime Real Azteca... pork tacos with huitlacoche recommended... also the chicharrones tortas if you're feeling it....

      lots of great Mexican in NYC these days!


      19 Replies
      1. re: Patrick A.

        Well, there's been lots of talk about Mex in general on these boards, including which neighborhoods to go to, but hey--why not a little more. There are a couple great taquerias in east harlem, AND a cafe/tortilleria where you can get fresh masa (including fresh blue masa, and ground for tortillas or corser for tamales), and tons of good mex groceries. Then there's jackson heights, and there are also supposedly a lot of good places in brooklyn I have yet to explore...

        The thing is, it's not about which one is best (and, as you can see from a cursory read of most chowhound posts, most people's "bests" [with taquerias or ANYTHING] just happen to be the ones they went to), but about getting a couple tacos at each one, exploring the neighborhoods, and finding out who does what best, how the prices compare, who speaks english or not, who's nicest, who has a more interesting selection, etc. In the aforementioned neighborhoods, all the Mexican stuff is fairly condensed and there are many taco options. As in Mexico, pretty much any taco stand with people at it is going to be great.

        One thing to remember, though, is that, authentic though they may be, these places casn't approximate the remarkable flavors you get IN Mexico, so don't go expecting it...these places are not having their Mexican-specific produce grown locally, not rendering their own lard (or even cooking with it at all, in some cases), not making their own tortillas (though they might taste like it--the factory tortillas at the real Mex groceries around here are fantastic, though of a different character than you get with fresh masa), making their moles from pastes, and not using certain ingredients at all (hoja santa, certain chiles, fresh huitlacoche, fresh squash blossoms, fresh epazote much of the year, unpasteurized cheeses and crema...). But the tacos are still fantastic.


        1. re: Nils

          I tried searching the board and came up empty - could you post the name/address of the place selling fresh masa? I've always wanted to play around with fresh tortillas and tamales, but the dried stuff just doesn't cut it.


          1. re: Taze Rowe

            I believe it's on 2nd ave between 117th & 118th; across from Mexico Lindo (which you could look up in the phone book). It looks like a coffee shop, but says "Tortilleria" with signs saying "masa blanca y azul para tortillas y tamales" or something. They're super-nice and it's, I think, 40 cents a pound! Ground fresh all day. Remember that it doesn't keep more than a day, though.

            Fresh masa is fantastic, though i think it's a bit like fresh vs. dried pasta, and not (as some poeple would lead you to believe) a million times better than tortillas made with masa harina; they're just different...fresh masa tortillas are smoother, with a kind of floppy, almost rubbery (though not chewy) feel. I DO prefer them, but regardless, fresh tortillas, even with masa harina, are SOOO much better than packaged that what's important isn't chasing down fresh masa, but rather, getting in the habit of making your own tortillas, which is very easy once you get going.


            1. re: Nils

              Nils -- I would like to try my hand at making tortillas, either with fresh masa or masa harina; but I somehow have the impression (from the one time I did it) that the only way to do it is in big batches, which (a) is a lot of work and (b) I don't eat them all and they go stale. I think I was going from a recipe on the side of a bag of masa harina -- can I successfully reduce such a recipe? Or do you have a source for a good recipe for small batches?


              1. re: Jeremy Osner

                No, they're very easy to make in small quantities, just reduce the recipe you're using proportionally, though, as with any doughs, it'll vary a little each time. the consistency you're looking for is kind of a soft cookie dough; you want it as soft as possible before it gets at all sticky.

                Use a tortilla press with plastic on each plate (not plastic wrap; a cut-up garbage bag is good) and press and bake. I think they're EASIER in small quantities because it gets a little tiresome.

                One tip, which is a little less authentic but a lot easier, is to use an electric tortilla press (about $40 from Vitantonio). You can bake the whole tortilla on here, which is REALLY easy & tastes just fine, OR you can do what I do, which I to press it out on the machine, then it releases itself from the non-stick plates after a few seconds, then put the barely-cooked (but not stocky) tortilla on a comal and bake there for the roasty flavor--they're WAY better than the all-machine-cooked ones & just about as good as pressing them out totally raw. You can also set the pressed-but-barely-cooked tortillas aside on wax paper (which you can't really do with raw tortillas--these you have to go right from plastic to hand to comal), so that you're not simultaneously pressing & baking. This really does make tortilas making easy enough to do every day.

                You might try looking for a better recipe on the web (there's gotta be tons); side-of-box recipes can be shady.


                1. re: Nils

                  Thanks for the pointers -- what is a comal?

                  1. re: Jeremy

                    sorry...a comal is basically an iron gridddle on which mexican's do a large portion of their cooking--not just tortillas, but charring vegetables, searing meats, etc. (Cazuelas, large earthenware vessels for sauces, stocks, stewing meat, etc) are the other cookware items of choice in Mex cuisine.)

                    Any VERY heavy (pref cast iron) pan will work, or you can pick up comals that fit over 2 burners at many Mexican shops (try Kitchen Market in Chelsea) for around $15. Also--joy of joys--they don't have to be seasoned, as tortillas release themselves from the surface (and on the rare occasion you get a stubborn spot, it's easily coaxed with a fork).

                    1. re: Nils

                      Thanks! I'll try it out one of these days soon -- I guess I'll just use my skillet to cook the tortillas, the first couple of times anyway.

                  2. re: Nils
                    Leslie Brenner

                    In response to Jeremy Osner's question about whether one can make reduce the recipe for tortillas made from masa harina, the answer is yes, and I think it's a great solution to his problem. The dough is very forgiving.

                    And please excuse my ignorance, but *baking* tortillas? I've never heard of that! They don't get dried out? I didn't know there was any alternative to using a comal or skillet. With a little practice, using a manual tortilla press (and I've come to the same conclusion about plastic bags--I like the thin take-out bag variety of plastic) and a comal, tortilla making quickly becomes easy and automatic.

                  3. re: Jeremy Osner

                    Any Diana Kennedy cookbook would be a great source. There are a lot of little tricks to making a really excellent tortilla involving when to flip, how many times, and tapping to get air pockets. It took a few tries before the Mexican women I know would tell and show me all the tricks, and then I read a Diana Kennedy book and she described all of them and had illustrations. The one I have is called "The Cuisines of Mexico" Best of luck, but then you'll never want to eat a store bought tortilla again.

                    1. re: Vanessa
                      Leslie Brenner

                      I, too, learned to make tortillas from Kennedy's "The Cuisines of Mexico." I just went back and looked at it, and it turns out that's where the plastic bag trick comes from. (I don't know whether Kennedy came up with that trick herself; she doesn't claim in the book to have invented it.) Anyway, I highly highly recommend this book--it's authoritative, the techniques and recipes are very clearly explained, and everything works beautifully.

                      1. re: Leslie Brenner

                        I'm pretty sure Diana Kennedy learned that trick in Mexico. Every Mexican I know does it.

                        1. re: Vanessa
                          Leslie Brenner

                          Makes sense; that's where she learned everything about Mexican cooking!

                2. re: Nils

                  I found the place over the weekend, but they've stopped offering fresh masa. Foiled again!

                3. re: Patrick A.

                  Wow, tough crowd (as it should be). The convenience of having taquerias in downtown Manhattan shouldn't be undersold, although I agree East Harlem does have some good spots (although, really, Sunset Park is better, especially when it comes to variety).
                  Someone asked what made the 14th Street stands stand out. In contrast to the usual blah NYC soft taco, on 14th I ran into a decent tortilla with the taste of fresh-ground masa and a little lime kick(I don't mean citrus), and heated of course. They were also frying the gordita pockets on the spot. The fillings were varied, the beef had some nice dry rub spice to it. The salsas were the best feature, beyond your usual red-green choice, everything minced in and fresh (instead of those huge tomato chunks and stringy cilantro pieces you sometimes get). Not the "best" in the city, but certainly a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
                  And you know, everything is around a dollar, so as dining decisions go it's definitely no-stress.

                  1. re: Patrick A.

                    Patrick, can't find Real Azteca at it close enough to the 6 train that we can't miss it?

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      Jim, it's real easy - when you come upstairs from the Hunt's Point stop on the 6, do a 180, head for the big intersection, cross over to the "Lot Less" store on the corner, then it's just a few doors straight ahead, down E. 163rd St.

                      Yesterday they had chicharrones in what looked like a tomatillo sauce - I think these were the fried pork skin kind of chicharrones - in any case, I didn't go for it. I've been looking for the stewed oxtails, but haven't hit it right for a couple of months.

                      I love this place - it's the closest I get to a home-cooked lunch, and right around the corner from the office. Give a shout if you're going to be in the neighborhood. My colleague Jack & I will be happy to point you to the few places we've found. (If I can speak for him in his absence!)

                      PS on Fridays they have the huitlacoche quesadillas.

                      1. re: Helen

                        Sounds easy enough to find, thanks for the great directions! If anyone else gets there, please report back (ideally on the outer boroughs board; it's nearby, but the Bronx isn't quite Manhattan!)


                  2. here's a greasy place I checked out last week, as I work nearby: Los 2 Rancheros @ 509 Ninth Avenue(cross:37th?). I can only recommend the taco's at this point, but they were good. I had Al Pastor and Carnitas. They did it right with a little chopped cilantro and onion and the meat. no lettuce or tomato in sight. 2 bucks a pop. I did notice they had bbq goat. gonna try that next time. thanks for the truck tip.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: SLAP

                      They're seafood soup was tasty too. Although it's not for the squeamish. Lots of odd little things floating around. I just tried not to look at it, because it was so tasty.

                      1. re: SLAP

                        Los Dos Rancheros used to be one of the best places in the city, but great Mexican restaurants almost always take a major league dive after about 9months of operation. I don't know why. I saw it at Taqueria Paisono in sunset park, at Xochimilco in Long Island City, at the place on 30th and 21st in Astoria, and at La Hacienda on 116th (though I think that place is still at least ok...with the heavy local Mexican culture/competition to keep it on it's toes).

                        Dos Rancheros is still pretty good for tacos, as you say, but it's not a real destination at this point.

                        We hounds need to stay in touch and move quick. When good Mexicans open up, there's a limited window of chow opportunity.


                        1. re: Jim Leff
                          Leslie Brenner

                          c.f. Jim's comment that great taco places tend to go out of business after a year or so, I (a former Angeleno) have fallen in love with a taco place in Brooklyn--Tacos Nuevo Mexicano--that has actually improved with time! But I suppose since it's an outer borough place, I'll do a posting on that board.

                      2. Peter:
                        Thanks for the tip. I didn't know about that taco stand. I did get dinner from Super Tacos Sobre Ruedas, the truck on 96th St. and Broadway, a couple of weeks ago, though, and it was great - so much delicious, very spicy food for $7 (I ordered tacos de chivo and got a bunch of side dishes thrown in). I look forward to patronizing them again. What do the rest of you think of that taco truck?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Michael

                          With your endorsement will try it this weekend (that's my subway stop and it always smells good) and let you know on Mon.

                          1. re: Elaine

                            There used to be a Mexican fellow who sold homemade tamales on the corner where Symphony Space is (SE 95 + B'way). With the construction of the new apt bldg I haven't seen him for a while. The tamales were sold warm froma Coleman cooler! Not bad. Just thought you might like that tidbit.