Chelsea Market’s Los Tacos No. 1 is one of the city’s best taquerias. It tries to evoke a beach shack on the Baja Peninsula selling tacos, and largely succeeds. Adobada is the jam, a humongous twirling cylinder of spice-rubbed pork, with juices running down its flanks like spittle on the chin of a crazed surfer grabbing a 14-foot wave. Even the whitewashed frame structure of the taqueria, with its stenciled come-ons, induces nostalgia for a place you’ve probably never been, while making you famished for a bulging mula, which is like a cross between a quesadilla and a taco. Whether flour or corn, the homemade tortillas are gorgeous.
Now its fraternal twin has opened up down a zigzagging hallway from the original taqueria, which leads to a former loading dock. Even better, you can approach through a grand exterior entrance on West 15th Street emblazoned with the name of the place, Los Mariscos, allowing you to bypass the crushing Chelsea Market crowds. In contrast to its forerunner, which has no seating, the new place offers accommodations at three whitewashed picnic tables, along a white-tiled bar (yes, there are beers and cocktails), and at a Z-shaped counter that overlooks the passing throng a few steps down on the sidewalk, doubtlessly on its way to Blue Bottle.
The walls are decorated with a nautical motif, including buoys, life jackets, a stuffed marlin, thick ropes, a ship’s wheel, painted seascape murals, fishing rods, and a pug-nosed mahi-mahi hanging from a block and tackle, as if you’ve just caught it. This stuff all registers as scenic rather than stupid, helping once again to get you in the mood for the fish tacos, seafood cocktails, ceviches, and aguachiles that are the provender of the place.
First, the tacos. The fish taco is made with a white fish in the bass family (according to the cashier) lightly breaded and fried in such a way that it tastes slightly briny without being the least bit skanky. Shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and the whitest mayo you’ve ever seen provide the garnish. At $3, these are a bargain, since they’re so well stuffed that two or three would make a meal. The bank of bottled hot sauces on every table is another asset.
The shrimp taco ($3.50) rides the same wave, four or five breaded and fried shrimp of restrained size. I advise you not to bother with the third taco, called shrimp enchilado ($4.50), which leaves the crustaceans unbreaded and ramps up the heat by spiking the mayo. You can do the same thing with the cheaper shrimp taco by simply squirting on the hot sauce and mussing it around with your pinkie.
Presented as tostadas, the ceviches are almost as good, though I’d go for the simple fish version ($4), rather than the mixed seafood "especial" ($6) — the seafood is chopped so fine, you can hardly tell what it is, anyway. The tostadas come with avocado on top, an ingredient lavishly used throughout the menu. Served in a glass, the shrimp and mixed seafood cocktails are also worth trying, and you’re invited to eat them with the stack of plastic-bagged commercial tostadas provided on every table.
I was less enthralled with the aguachiles ($17.50 to $18.50), which are soupy raw seafood salads (red or green) prepared on the spot and served in a volcanic-stone metate, so the shrimp, for example, don’t really become opaque. If you’re a shrimp sushi fanatic, this won’t bother you in the least. Los Mariscos also offers raw oyster and clams, of which the clams in the style of Ensenada (two for $5) are a particular delight. Named after a city in Baja, they featured finally chopped clams tossed with pico in the shell. Squirt on the hot sauce! 75 9th Ave, (212) 652-2110