When it opened in 2013, the wildly popular Los Tacos No. 1 was a game changer where Mexican food was concerned. Unlike a classic taqueria, this place behaved like a pared-down Tijuana taco stand with only four fillings. Two of those fillings were insanely good, especially the pork adobada cut from a vertical spit and the grilled carne asada. The public loved the simplicity. Prep was done right behind the counter, the fillings were heaped generously, and the guac copious and free.
Who would be surprised to find that other restaurateurs might try to emulate this simple formula? A week ago, Taqueria Al Pastor appeared over the easternmost entrance to the DeKalb L train station in Bushwick, using the Pueblan name for the same rotating pork cylinder surmounted by sweetening and tenderizing pineapple twirling on a trompo that is the star of the show at Los Tacos No. 1. While Taqueria Al Pastor doesn’t look like a beachside taco stand, the layout is similarly bare bones. The influence seems so obvious that a rumor started spreading in the neighborhood that a former Los Tacos employee was helming it. Inside Taqueria Al Pastor, a central area features mainly standing room and minimal stool seating along a window, plus a counter in front of an open kitchen.
But staffers at the restaurant said the new spot comes from owner Pedro Ramales, who hails from Puebla and has operated more conventional taquerias in the neighborhood, including Taqueria Acatlan nearby on Irving Avenue. And the new spot has some elements in common with Tacombi, too; Taqueria Al Pastor’s façade features a VW minibus, much like the kind turned into mobile taquerias in the Yucatan Peninsula, which inspired the original Tacombi on Elizabeth Street.
The food, though, is in a league of its own so far. Step up to the counter and place your order. As at Tacos No. 1, you get a ticket and present it to a guy further down, who superintends your meal. Behind him, a different staffer pats a tortilla from a bowl of masa and cooks it on the griddle for your order — corn tortillas don’t get any fresher. The pork al pastor is freshly cut, too, by another staffer, who puts it into the tortilla and hands it back to the first guy, who adds cilantro, raw onions, guac, and a squirt of a surprisingly incendiary red salsa. The tacos here have an innate burn that those at Los Tacos lack.
Available as a taco or a two-tortilla gringa stuck together with melted cheese ($3.50, $4.50), the al pastor here is similar to that of Los Tacos. Get it on the gringa, wherein the moisture content is enhanced, and the taste is fantastic. The carne asada, however, is even better than that of Los Tacos. It has a hint of garlic and probably some other spices, too, making it supremely flavorful. Though Taqueria Al Pastor is only a week old, the carne asada is instantly one of the city’s best versions of that taco.
The restaurant also has volcanes, an item apparently native to Jalisco, Sinaloa, and Baja that’s similar to a tostada. The crisp edge is turned upward somewhat, keeping the fillings from tumbling off when you bite into it. The cactus filling I tried was wholesome and pleasantly slimy, tasting of the desert after a sudden rain. But it really can’t compete with the al pastor or carne asada, and I didn’t try the chicken when I saw skinless breasts cooking on the grill.
Burritos and platos with rice are also available, but I most highly recommend the flour tortilla gringa stuffed with the place’s powerful carne asada. 128 Wyckoff Ave, at Stanhope Street, Bushwick