There was a time, not long ago, when the tacos in NYC sucked, and everyone visiting from the West Coast laughed at us. So much has changed. According to Thrillist’s “History of the Taco,” the number of southern Mexican immigrants in NYC ballooned around 30 years ago, and now the Mexican population is the third largest in New York City. Neighborhoods like Sunset Park birthed amazing taquerias, schooling New Yorkers on what a taco should taste like. (NO, not a crunchy El Paso shell blanketed with shredded “Mexican blend” cheese, thank you very much.) If you need help finding the best ones along 4th Ave., Lesley Téllez, author of Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas wrote this roundup for us, of the best tacos in Sunset Park.
Then restaurants like Cosme arrived, where “contemporary Mexican cuisine” came with linen napkins to wipe the $94 duck carnitas from the lips. A friend took me to lunch there for my birthday a few years ago, and I still recall the exquisite tiny bites. After that, the upscale taco scene seemed to explode faster than a shaken Jarritos.
Jumping on the food trend, the owner of Ganso, a shuttered ramen noodle spot in Boerum Hill, is rumored to be opening a Mexico City-style taqueria in Downtown Brooklyn this fall. Ramen is out, fancy tacos are in. This summer alone, in fact, three new gourmet taquerias opened in Brooklyn. In case you weren’t around, we scoped out the best tacos to try at each.
Tacombi “Al Pastor” Taco
“Born on the balmy beaches of the Yucatan, serving tacos out of a converted VW bus…”begins the origin story of Tacombi. This micro chain is taking over New York with branches in the Empire State Building, Bleecker Street, Flatiron, Nolita, Montauk, and now Fort Greene. The environment is pure Pinterest, with breezy spaces, hand-painted signs, and twinkling lights. This location, which was the old Berlyn, is across from BAM and is graced with a spacious patio that is perfect for group dining. The restaurant works with local farmers, butchers and fishermen to bring a freshness to the tacos. Out of the list, the tacos do not seem expensive, but the price adds up when you add in the amount of tacos you’ll want to eat, the sides and drinks (you should 100% order a pitcher of margaritas). The al pastor ($4 for one taco) will taste familiar, cooked to perfection and sprinkled with bits of roasted pineapple. The tortillas are freshly made, with non-GMO corn, and the Berkshire pork is shredded right from a spit. Tacombi, 25 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene.
Tacocina “Chicken Adobe” Taco
If you haven’t been to Domino Park, are you even a Brooklynite? Part of what makes this beautiful park stand out is the existence of Danny Meyer’s eye-catching taco stand. Tacocina is serving up cornmeal battered shrimp tacos, vegetarian mushroom tacos, beef barbacoa tacos, and the most popular: chicken adobo taco ($4). All of them are pretty good, but the chicken one is absolutely delicious. It’s a bit smoky and spicy, made even spicier with the house-made carrot hot sauce (that you pour on to your liking), and garnished with a hefty handful of cilantro. The tacos are good, but sitting in the sun at the water’s edge, staring at the skyline, elevates the experience. Skip the guacamole appetizer, as the chips have the thick consistency of a pita chip, and the tiny cup of guacamole isn’t worth cutting up an avocado. Instead, order a margarita or a can of wine, and watch the sunset. Tacocina, Domino Park, 25 River St., Williamsburg.
Oxomoco “Lamb Barbacoa” Taco
First of all, let me say that I haven’t been to Oxomoco, nor have I tried the barbacoa taco. That’s because I haven’t been able to get into the restaurant. (Book a spot in advance here.) Once I’m there, I bet I’ll love sitting in the back garden, sippin’ some agave, and biting into some of the most inventive tacos on any menu. The lamb barbacoa ($14 for 2; $21 for 3) is recommended by Eater, where Robert Sietsema describes the lamb as slow cooked and topped with “a relish made of pipicha — a feathery herb that tastes like dirty mint — [which] crowns the jiggly meat, as does a squash blossom that doesn’t add much but sure looks pretty riding shotgun.” If lamb doesn’t float your boat, there are other choices involving flank steak, beet “chorizo” or albacore tuna. Oxomoco, 128 Greenpoint Ave., Greenpoint.
Claro “Turkey Tinga” Taco
Claro, which opened in 2017, is not exactly new, but its back patio is still the loveliest way to eek out the summer weather. You need to plan well in advance to reserve prime seating, though, and walk-ins will be kindly escorted to either the bar or an inside table under an air vent (the last available seats in the restaurant at 5:30pm.) Outside, a wood-fired oven smokes up meats for the family-style menu that comes out in the order it is prepared to salivating customers. Everything here is cooked Oaxacan-style and meant to be shared. That means the table could indulge in regional dishes like Chile Relleno, and an order of Yellow Fin Tostada, plus a Mole Rojo, which includes heritage pork cheek with apple and dandelion salad. There is also a Warm Chocolate Mole Cake that will make you dizzy with pleasure. Or you could order all the tacos, which is what we did. Between the four different kinds of deliciousness, it was hard to choose a favorite. The turkey tinga taco ($16 for three) stood out for the piled high shredded moist turkey, a dose of crisp cabbage and thinly sliced radish, a spray of cilantro and a healthy squirt of cream sauce. Turkey is rarely found in a taco, and this combination was a revelation. I’m pretty sure this was a special late summer dish, but if it’s on the menu when you get there, for goodness sake, give it a try. It’s something I will remember for the day after Thanksgiving; turkey without the heaviness, it’s something to be thankful for. Claro, 284 3rd Avenue, Gowanus.