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La Esquina pastrami tacos Robert Sietsema

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4 Excellent Pastrami Tacos to Try in NYC

Robert Sietsema tracks down one of our most elusive cross-cultural treats

New Yorkers have historically been purists about their pastrami. Though this cured and smoked brisket was invented here (with Romanian antecedents), its use has historically been restricted to Jewish delis and sandwich shops. The former serve it hot and sometimes hand-sliced; the latter often cold-sliced as one among many sandwich meats. Lately, a few of the city’s barbecues have experimented with it, without tremendous success. In spite of promising new small-batch pastrami makers like Harry & Ida’s and Frankel’s, Katz’s remains the world’s best.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles residents have been playing fast and loose with pastrami for decades, treating it as the wonderfully diverse meat that it is. In California you can find pastrami in burritos, in tacos, on French dip sandwiches, on Italian heroes with marinara, and topping burgers, to name just a few common uses. Oki Dog famously serves a pastrami and frankfurter burrito, doing a double-deli move, while many old-time burger stands also serve pastrami sandwiches — pink, hot, and just as greasy as the burgers.

Well, maybe New York is catching up, because we’ve gradually assembled a formidable collection of pastrami tacos. Here are four favorites. Let us know if you know of any others, or further novel uses of Gotham’s most delicious cured meat.

Empellon Taqueria

Empellon pastrami taco

When this West Village cocktail taqueria opened in 2011, it probably united pastrami and tortilla for the first time in New York. The pastrami is made with short ribs rather than brisket, and toppings include fermented cabbage and a unique mustard-seed salsa that has been extensively copied around town. 230 West 4th St, (212) 367-0999

Flats Fix

Flats Fix pastrami taco

Made up to look like a tire-repair shop, with the requisite piles of retreads out front, Flats Fix is more bar than restaurant, but it offers pastrami tacos, burritos, and tortas, a reference to the diversity of California pastrami usage. The tacos also nod to New York delis by putting mayo cole slaw in the taco — not a bad idea. 28 E 16th St, (917) 435-0515

La Esquina

La Esquina pastrami tacos

This downtown taqueria started serving pastrami tacos at its Midtown branch as a tribute to Carnegie Deli, after that sainted institution closed in late winter. Toppings include a nice caraway-dotted and lightly cured sauerkraut and pickled red chiles. The taco would be great if the pastrami weren’t served cold. 200 W. 55th St, (212) 894-3376

Delicatessen Taco

A flat tortilla with chunks of red meat and a salsa that looks like fish eggs.

The name says it all at this new stall in the Gansevoort Market. Pastrami tacos are dressed in the style of Pueblan tacos, with chopped raw onions and cilantro — but then pickled mustard seeds are also dumped on top, making for an especially tasty, cross-cultural taco. 351 W 14th St, (718) 622-4050

Empellon

230 West 4th Street, New York, New York 10014

La Esquina

114 Kenmare Street, Manhattan, NY 10012 (646) 613-7100 Visit Website
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