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Customers sit behind a sneeze guard as two chefs prepare tacos.
The “tacomakase” is 11 courses. For some customers, that’s just the beginning.

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An 11-Course Taco Omakase Is Hiding in the Bowels of Grand Central

Dirty Taco, a small restaurant in the terminal’s dining concourse, serves a taco tasting menu once a month

The Lakers were up by six points when I sat down at New York’s newest taco tasting menu, a six-seat sneeze guard hiding in the basement of Grand Central. How do I know this? The people sitting to my right were watching game four of the NBA playoffs on an iPhone, and because this was an intimate, elbow-to-elbow dining experience, so was I. Over the next two hours, we talked about cryptocurrency, Peloton, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s return to the league — a small price to pay for a menu with some of the more interesting tacos I’ve encountered in the city so far.

The restaurant, Dirty Taco, opened last summer in the underground dining concourse of Grand Central Terminal. It’s a fast-casual taqueria, but twice a month, its owners Tae Lee and Jake Geragos keep the lights on a few hours later, serving an 11-course tasting menu consisting almost entirely of tacos.

The style of service was popularized in Mexico City at the fine dining restaurant Pujol. For close to two decades, the restaurant from Enrique Olvera, who also runs Cosme in Flatiron, was known for its seven-course tasting menu headlined by a mole said to be over 2,500 days old. In 2017, the chef went off script: He created a second menu that drew on omakase, a Japanese phrase that translates to “I leave it up to you.” It’s often used to describe high-end sushi counters where cuts of seafood are selected by a chef.

A hand holds out a small blue tortilla topped with orange roe.
A hand uses a tool to pipe a beige cream onto a mushroom taco made with lettuce in place of a tortilla.
The chefs Jake Geragos, left, and Tae Woo Lee stand behind the counter of their restaurant, Dirty Taco.
Top to bottom: a tostada with red caviar; maitake mushroom with a lettuce “tortilla”; and chefs Tae Lee and Jake Geragos at work in the kitchen.

Olvera wanted to bring elements of Japanese fine dining to Mexican cooking. “Our philosophy is similar to sushi,” Olvera said when the menu was introduced. “We are focusing on the corn and the process of making the most beautiful tortilla just as you would rice in the nigiri.” His customers sit at a 10-seat counter, and tacos are handed over like prized pieces of fish. To get the point across, he called it a taco omakase.

The format has been replicated at restaurants across the country, including in New York, but never in the basement of a major transportation hub run by the MTA. The series has been ongoing since March, when Lee and Geragos turned their restaurant’s sneeze guard into a chef’s counter with pork belly, pig’s foot, and sweetbreads tacos. Because there are only six seats, it’s one of the fastest-moving tables in town. The next dinners take place on June 12 and 13.

The tasting menu costs around $150 per person, which includes tax, tip, and endless pours of Korean rice wine. At the highest end of dining in New York, printed menus summarizing what was eaten come at the end of the meal. Here, they wait on the seat of each table, and each course is represented by an emoji. “We like to keep people guessing,” Lee says.

Two cubes of meat drenched in a thick brown sauce are served on a yellow tortilla.
A chef wearing black gloves uses tweezers to plate three thick slices of pink meat on a blue tortilla.
Two customers sit at a counter in the basement of Grand Central as a gloved hand collects a dish.
Top to bottom: Tacos with trotter terrine; slices of pork belly beside a pot of mole; and customers seated at the counter.

One course, represented by the cow emoji, is made from sweetbreads. The chefs prepare the organ meat in the style of a Baja fish taco, frying it and serving it with avocado crema and slaw. Another, the tongue emoji, foreshadows beef lengua. It appears on a blue heirloom corn tortilla from the Bushwick restaurant Sobre Masa with a mushroom au poivre sauce instead of salsa.

The pig emoji, seventh in the lineup, is an intermission from other meats. It consists of three pork tacos in a row: one with cubed terrine made from pig’s feet, another with belly meat cut from a pig that’s been raised on a milk diet, and a third with slices of jowl and daikon kimchi.

On that note, neither Lee or Geragos are of Mexican descent. The partners are Korean and Armenian, respectively, having come of age on street tacos in Southern California. Their backgrounds and upbringings interplay in unexpected ways, such as with a mole made from dates, jujube, persimmon, and apricot that the chefs call Korean Armenian, or a mackerel topped with kimchi and labneh, the first taco on the menu.

A photograph of a menu with emojis and notes from a chef.
A menu with notes from the chefs.

Between courses, the chefs stand behind the counter, telling stories about the supper clubs they ran out of their apartment in college, where they met, or the farmer who brought a species of pig back from the brink of extinction so that it could end up as jowl on their menu. Occasionally, they drift over to the register to sell someone a bottle of water for their commute, reminding you this is a taco stand playing Lil Nas X on a portable speaker, not one of the city’s fine dining establishments.

As for the last emoji on the menu, it’s a taco — a nod to another Mexico City restaurant, Expendio de Maíz, where the style of service is so obvious it makes you question how all other restaurants serve food. There’s no menu: Servers simply come around and ask if you’re still hungry. You pay by the number of courses you eat, and you eat until you can’t anymore. The only thing that stops the flow of food is asking for the check.

The chefs attempt a similar feat after dessert. They continue to make tacos on the fly for free using leftover ingredients until customers are full. It’s an invitation to keep eating, in the event that eight tacos and two hours in Grand Central wasn’t enough.

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