Once upon a time, circa 2006, my staple pre-movie meal was a margarita at Chevy’s on 42nd St paired with the chips and salsa that accompanied it. The reasons for such a questionable choice of venue weren’t so much gastronomic as practical: Chevy’s was literally across the street from the theater. And the chips were free.
As luck would have it, theater district dining has evolved over the intervening decade — so have my own sensibilities. And while there are excellent restaurants of all stripes in the neighborhood, I’ll argue that Los Tacos No. 1 — Tyler Sanders, Kyle Cameron, and Christian Pineda’s offshoot of the Chelsea Market original — is the best bet for an affordable meal within 20 minutes of a curtain call.
So queue up, ask for a few “adobada” al pastor tacos, pay at the register, and hand the receipt to one of the taco guys standing behind the white tile counter (“no receipt, no tacos”, a sign reads). The taco guy, dressed in a red apron and a white hat, then shaves pork off a gyro-like spit, places the meat inside a tortilla, tosses salsa and pineapples on top, and hands it to you.
Eat immediately, standing up (there are no seats). Drink with horchata ladled from a glass vat. If there’s no line, you’ll be in and out in under 10 minutes.
To some, the expediency alone will be enough to qualify the al pastor as a buy. But I’ll argue that the tortillas are the real draw, particularly the ones that are made out of flour. This suggestion will bother some.
“Few foods are more contentious among Mexicans than the flour tortilla,” Gustavo Arellano writes in his ode to that foodstuff for the New Yorker. Flour, like pork, was not indigenous to Mexico but brought over by the European conquistadors. And although more Americans are developing a taste corn tortillas — a more flavorful and aromatic counterpoint to the bland product used to wrap burritos at Chipotle — the masa variety doesn’t quite reach its peak at Los Tacos. They’re good, not great.
The flour tortillas — seldom seen at New York’s better Mexican restaurants — are among the city’s best at Los Tacos. They are laced with lard (versus vegetable shortening) and rolled out so thin that they’re translucent like tissue paper.
An al pastor taco might achieve its indisputable apex with a corn tortilla, whose earthier complexities keep all the rampant flavors in check, but there’s a case to be made for the flour variety here. The gossamer texture allows the warm achiote spices, mouth stinging chiles, and crispy pork to come through with more assertiveness. It’s as if this tortilla is pretending to be a gently flaky wonton wrapper.
I’d say three of the flour tacos make a snack, and four a light meal. They cost $3.50 each, and I’m calling them a BUY.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).