Two royal restaurants face off against each other on either side of Sunset Park’s Fifth Avenue: the King of Meat, a “steak taqueria,” lies at 4408 Fifth Avenue near 44th Street, while the King of Fish, alternately called El Rey Del Pescado, is situated one block south at 4415 Fifth Avenue, near 45th Street. Both are owned by Roger Asmar, who opened his fish restaurant in March 2020; the steak joint was coronated almost three years later.
I went with a friend on a recent Saturday afternoon to answer the question: “Which king reigns supreme?”
The King of Fish
We strode into El Rey Del Pescado first, eschewing the deep and dark barroom when we realized the place was as much a cocktail bar as a taqueria. Instead, we seated ourselves in the extensively decorated backyard, where the decor reflected the twin influences of Jimmy Buffet and Jaws, with an electric guitar hung on one wall and a menacing shark rushing toward us at the far end.
We quickly established ground rules for the competition: We’d order four tacos at each place, picking the most interesting ones, and order an additional non-taco dish as a further check. At King of Fish we requested a shrimp taco, a shrimp enchilado taco, an octopus taco, and a tuna tostada. All except the tostada — which we’d picked because it has become a standard on many menus, Mexican or not — came on wonderful homemade corn tortillas, a little thicker, softer, and grainier than elsewhere.
The shrimp enchilado, rubbed with chile, and plain shrimp taco were both tasty and pristinely fresh ($6 each). We preferred the former, but it was the octopus taco ($7) that blew us away. The cephalopod had been extensively tenderized and cut into tiny cubes, which made a nice contrast with the crunch of the shredded cabbage, and there was a bit of cheese in there, too. As we found out, all the seafood tacos were treated something like Baja fish tacos, slathered with pico and a sweet creamy dressing.
Compared with the tacos, the tostada was lackluster, with the kind of characterless tuna one finds in food court sushi bars. In addition, we got a shrimp aguachile ($18) with big raw shrimp bobbing in a flavorful and intensely green marinade with plenty of chile heat, one of the best aguachiles in the city. A michelada we tried, with cooked shrimp hanging on the rim like exhausted swimmers, was also excellent.
The King of Meat
Slightly tipsy on beer and raw seafood, we wandered across the street to the King of Meat. It had the same feel and layout as its older sibling, only darker; the soundtrack was classic rock rather than the modern Mexican pop we’d heard at the seafood counterpart. There was no courtyard so we sat at the bar. The place also offered a menu of steaks running as high as $48 for a tomahawk, NY strip, or ribeye, but we stuck with the tacos.
As an app, we picked a chorizo-laced queso fundido ($13). It came in a cute little cast-iron pan with freshly fried tortilla chips and plenty of sausage — we were impressed. We ordered four tacos that featured steak, which suffered from the same appearance, the way the tacos had done at the King of Fish. Pork rind and chicken shawarma tacos were also offered.
We found the flavorful ribeye taco ($8) a little tough and not finely enough minced, so unless you bit down hard, much of the meat pulled out with the first bite. The taco called Benjamins was similar in composition, only with “oven-cooked” steak that I’d recommend only because, at $7, it was a dollar less. Two other tacos were far better: the Dude, presumably referring to The Big Lebowski, featured steak, bacon, cheese, and sauteed onions; while the Psycho, maybe referring to the Alfred Hitchcock movie (maybe not), was made with an entire steak-stuffed jalapeno oozing queso.
All these tacos were made with the same tortillas that were used at the King of Fish, only they tasted like they’d been made yesterday.
The winner is…
I’d have to say that overall the fish-bearing tacos were better, and all things considered, including decor, tortillas, and the general lightness of seafood and perfection of its preparation, I’d have to pick the King of Fish as the superior taco destination, and the octopus taco as most unique. Still, the two tacos that I adored at the King of Meat would merit a special visit. With its cheesy and meaty munificence, the Dude abides.
But why not visit both places? The pilgrimage makes one of the city’s unique taco-eating experiences.