Along with Jackson Heights, Corona, Bushwick, Sunset Park, and East Harlem, the East Village is one of the best places in town to grab a taco, with new spots appearing almost on a daily basis. We recently saw Borrachito and Amigo by Nai debut, the first treating tacos as a drinking snack, the second exploring the intersection of tacos and tapas, both peddling beef birria tacos.
Just last week a new taqueria appeared on East Seventh Street, between Avenue A and First Avenue, called Los Tacos NYC, making it difficult to search for online given the similarity of its name to the much-lauded Los Tacos No. 1. Nevertheless, its menu is distinctive in the East Village scene, with yellow tortillas made in-house and flavorful rice deposited right in the taco, as if the tortilla were a parabolic main-course plate.
The new taqueria is an offshoot of the coffee bar chain 787, which has a branch just down the street. It shares the same owners, who also function as chefs at the new venue. Brandon Pena is from El Paso, and he and Sam Sepulveda, who grew up in Puerto Rico, have formulated a pleasingly single-minded menu that focuses exclusively on seven tacos: chicken mole, pollo a la Mexicana, pork chile colorado, beans and cheese, potato and soy chorizo, a breakfast taco of eggs and potatoes, and rajas con queso, the last four vegetarian. The only side dishes currently are guacamole and chips and a corn casserole.
How do these tacos differ from the usual types available in New York City and vicinity? They’re described as “tacos de guisado” ($3.75 each), which might be strictly translated as stew tacos. But the term more loosely denotes tacos like those made at home from ingredients at hand, which might include, for example, chicken mole, scrambled eggs, and perhaps some leftover rice. I asked the employee at the counter what this meant in practice and she replied, “We put rice in the tacos, which are like ones Mom makes at home, and use stews as the main filling.” She told me she is from Jalisco, and some of the other employees are from Puebla.
Rice in tacos is something we’ve seen here before, notably in tacos placeros (“market tacos”), which appeared about 15 years ago in Jackson Heights on Roosevelt Avenue, sold by mobile vendors. In addition to rice, these tacos often eschewed expensive ingredients like meat in favor of things like chiles relleno, roasted chile strips, and boiled eggs. Additionally, they are often humongous in size, making a full meal. Tacos placeros usually deploy double white-corn tortillas, but sometimes they resemble Pueblan quesadillas, with a single giant tortilla folded over the fillings.
The tacos at Los Tacos NYC are smaller, using smooth and almost crumbly yellow tortillas made on the premises that are quite distinct from tortillas elsewhere. The choice of fillings is also interesting, especially in the chile Colorado of pulled pork in a brick-red sauce made of dried chiles, which tasted to me very much like things I’d eaten in New Mexico and Arizona, and the potato and vegan chorizo. I was surprised at this filling’s flavor and texture, which very much resembled that of the potato and chorizo tacos that are a specialty of Zaragoza Grocery, six blocks north on Avenue A. In both cases, the potatoes lend a starchy heft to the taco and mediate the salty savor and spiciness of the chorizo, whether real or fake.
The mole taco is also noteworthy, especially for its pumpkin seed topping, which adds a crunch to the entire affair. The dollop of rice in each taco adds immeasurably to all the tacos, making them taste — I don’t know — creamier. Can extra carbs and the holy union of rice and corn ever be a bad thing?
The other tacos are fine, but those three really stand out. The guacamole at Los Tacos NYC is unremarkable (it needs cilantro and onion to give it oomph), but the corn casserole, a riff on the ears of boiled fresh corn slathered with mayo and dried cheese called elote that are a staple of street food all over Mexico, is well worth trying. Here, a soupy underlayer of corn kernels is covered with a whipped mixture of mayo and queso seco, making something like a cloud on a sunny day, but denser. The best effect is achieved by vigorously mixing the whole thing together and dipping it up with a chip left over from your guacamole — request a few chips if you didn’t get the guac.
There are plenty of sodas, but no desserts or side dishes apart from those mentioned. As far as I’m concerned, that’s good. It’s nice to have a restaurant that considers only one sort of taco, making it a destination among taquerias, and one I suspect I’ll find myself returning to.