New York excels at many food items. Pizza? The cheaper the better. Bagels? We have yet to find another city that can adequately replicate their soft chewiness. But one area where the city gets a bum rap, especially from Californians, is its Mexican food. And after many an afternoon pining for crispy fish tacos and burritos stuffed to the gills with spicy goodness, we put our expat longings to good use and hunted down the best places across the five boroughs for former Californians to find a little slice—or taco—of home.
Los Tacos No. 1
Opened by a three amigos – two guys from California and one from Tijuana – Los Tacos No. 1 specializes in Baja-style tacos, with authentic recipes honed during their time in Tijuana. Since opening in May last year, the Chelsea Market stand has seen near constant lines for its handmade corn tortillas, and the owners estimate that more than 500 people pass through their doors daily. Head over before noon to beat the lines and opt for an adobada taco, with hunks of marinated pork freshly sliced from the spit and topped with slices of pineapple.
El Rey Del Taco Truck
Follow the people stumbling out of bars late night in Astoria and you’ll likely be headed to one of this taco trucks two locations, on 30th Avenue or Ditmars. At $2 a pop, the tacos are a steal and come packed with plenty of heat if you ask for them spicy, but the true revelation for any post-boozing grub fest are the nachos. Piled high with meat, guac, lettuce, sour cream and more fixin’s, they’re best split by a few friends who don’t mind getting their fingers dirty digging for chips.
With a playful name and a tiny Nolita space, Pinche specializes in no-frills Mexican staples and weeknight specials such as $5 margaritas on Mondays and a free taco with every two during Taco Tuesdays. Head there before 4 p.m. for a heaping breakfast burrito, or stop by at dinner for the simple California bean and cheese burrito, which comes with just refried beans and cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, melted inside a flour tortilla.
Deep in Queens in the Rockaways, this Oaxacan taco joint is well-worth the trek, and the wait—owners typically shut down for winter and emerge from hibernation in the spring. It just gives you plenty of time to get those taste buds ready for Rockaway Taco’s legendary fish tacos, which combine crispy fried tilapia with crunchy slaw, radish and a tangy crema. Pair it with a pineapple mint juice and a view of the surfers hitting the waves, and you can almost pretend you’re back in So-Cal.
Tacombi at Fonda Nolita
It would be easy to dismiss the Volkswagen bus as a gimmick, if Tacombi’s signature vehicle didn’t get a healthy dose of Mexican street cred from its original start in Playa del Carmen. The aforementioned bus serves as a taco stand, the open kitchen is disguised as a surf shack, and you order food with little blue tokens, but any confusion from the whole experience is quickly expelled with one bite of the food. Each taco comes with two freshly ground corn tortillas to keep the whole operation from falling apart, filled with meats like tender barbacoa, slow-cooked pollo con mole, or seared veracruzana fish. Settle into the strange garage space, devour, and repeat until full.