In search of Midtown’s best new tacos? Step into the tunnels of Grand Central Terminal, down two sets of escalators, past the line of tourists at Magnolia Bakery, and there it is: slow-roasted cow face, spread over a two-bite corn tortilla.
The preparation, known as cabeza, is one of a handful of unlikely meats that’s appeared on the menu at Dirty Taco, a taqueria that friends Jake Geragos and Tae Woo Lee run out of Grand Central’s underground dining concourse. Now in its second month, the stand has found some early fans among commuters and local workers, but “most people don’t know we’re here,” Lee says after a slow breakfast service on Wednesday. Maybe it’s because New Yorkers aren’t used to seeing buche next to banana pudding. Or maybe they aren’t looking close enough.
The taqueria serves most of the usual suspects, making it easy to miss. The chalkboard menu advertises tacos with chicken, pork carnitas, mushroom, and — hold up, is that duck skin? It is, and that’s not all. Since opening on July 26, Geragos, a chef who worked at the Michelin-starred Nolita restaurant the Musket Room, and Lee have been slinging street tacos with duck carnitas and Korean short rib.
The latter meat is marinated in soy sauce, orange juice, and Korean pears then layered on a trompo and cooked in the style of al pastor. “We’re slow roasting something that’s been marinated with a lot of fruits that have been juiced,” Lee says. “The sugars are slowly caramelized, and the fat renders keeping the whole thing juicy.”
Cabeza and other cuts of meat rotate in and out as weekly specials. Are Grand Central commuters ready for cow’s head? “You’d be surprised,” Geragos says. The cabeza was apparently a hit. Suadero, a pale muscle meat that’s the star at Taqueria Ramirez in Greenpoint, found fans with local workers. Tacos heaped with crispy duck skin were last week’s special — replaced by lengua, the Spanish word for tongue, this week.
Taco meats not considered, the taqueria has the look and feel of a restaurant that could go on to become a restaurant chain: Orders are punched into a kiosk, and a few minutes later, out come cafeteria trays and takeout containers lined with tacos. According to Geragos and Lee, who also run Prova Pizzabar next door, the plan is to start with Grand Central, then emerge from the underground concourse and open a handful of locations across the city.
Geragos and Lee met in college over a Los Angeles Kings hockey match and went on to run a “supper club” out of their apartment twice weekly. They continued the tradition at a Los Angeles restaurant that riffed on their Armenian and Korean heritages — and the Mexican meats they came of age eating. In the process, they found a common thread that would inform their Grand Central restaurant: The third course of every tasting menu was a taco.
Standing behind the counter of Dirty Taco, it’s clear the pair has a lot of ideas. There’s talk of turning the food stall into a “taco omakase” counter after-hours — Lee specifically cites Pujol, another of Olvera’s restaurants in Mexico City — and popping up at bars across the city with a portable plancha down the line. But for now, find them cutting cabeza in the last place you might expect it: two floors under Grand Central.
Dirty Taco is open from 8 to 11 a.m., serving breakfast burritos. From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., the counter serves tacos.