David and I were talking last week, and considering the global financial markets are all in the crapper, the DOW is at an all time low, and the US dollar is not worth the paper it’s constantly getting printed on, we decided that it might not be a good idea to go on another vacation this year. Sigh…. He also said we’d be entering a severe depression soon and anarchy and mayhem would erupt everywhere like Mad Max and this week we were going to learn how to operate a machine gun so we could defend ourselves when the time came. This part I chose to ignore, because call me stupid, but I have a bit more faith in mankind and my fellow New Yorkers. And besides, my purse is just not big enough for a machine gun. In any case, no vacation doesn’t have to mean no exciting culinary adventurous, especially living in a city as diverse as New York. So last week, as it started getting colder and I started dreaming about warm waters and white sugary beaches, I did the next best thing and ate tacos, many, many tacos.
My first trip was to the new taco cart, El Rey del Sabor, on 60th and 3rd Avenue, right next to Bloomingdale’s. From left to right in the first photo, I got a Chicken Tamale ($1.75), a Carne Enchilada (spicy pork) Taco ($2), and a Chorizo Taco ($2). The chicken tamale was decent if just a bit dry. It didn’t have the lovely greasy messiness of the tamales from the Tamale Lady in front of the Mexican Embasy (50th St, betw 6 & 7th Ave) that I like. As for the Carne Enchilada Taco and the Chorizo Taco — gently packed with a smattering of julienned radishes, chopped onions, and cilantro — both were good but also a little dry. I think a squirt of hot sauce and squeeze of lime would have helped, but neither were included in the bag. It’s my fault for not asking. Out of all three, my favorite was the Chorizo Taco. Although the chorizo isn’t the aged dry-cured type of chorizo I am used to, it was good and was seasoned correctly. The Carne Enchilada was also tasty but not as spicy as I would have liked. Again, a little lime and hot sauce would have elevated these tacos to another level. Overall, it was a nice little taco meal straight off a midtown cart. I’ll probably go again if I’m in the area, but I’ll definitely ask for some hot sauce next time.
The next day, looking for another taco fix, I decided to check out Tulcingo del Valle since NYC Food Guy recommended the place when I wrote about Tehuitzingo two months ago. He said their entrees were better than their tacos, but of course, I had to find out myself. I ordered the Lengua (beef tongue) Taco, the Carne Enchilada (spicy pork) Taco, and the Al Pastor (roast pork) Taco (from left to right in the photo above). Each taco was $2.50. Smeared with guacamole, the Carne Enchilada Taco was juicy and spicy. It was even better with some hot chipotle sauce; I like heat in my tacos. In contrast, the Al Pastor Taco, also covered in guacamole, was sweet and deliciously smokey.
My absolute favorite though was the Lengua Taco, served with guacamole and a little chopped lettuce. The tongue was incredibly soft and moist, not tough at all, and full of delicious Mexican flavors of onion, garlic, and chiles (this is not your typical boil and serve tongue). I could have eaten just three of these.
The tacos also came with some sliced radishes, a charred jalapeno, and a quarter of a lime. I always appreciate fresh condiments. The sliced radishes were very cleansing between each taco bite.
On Thursday, I made the trek over to Pampano Taqueria, since it was supposedly “the finest tacos in New York City,” according to New York Magazine. At $2.75, the tacos here were the most expensive, but definitely not the “finest.”
The Pescado Taco is filled with sauteed king fish, napa cabbage, chipotle sauce, and wrapped in a flour tortilla. The taco was OK but it was very mediocre to say the least. Also, I didn’t realize this taco came in a flour tortilla, which I’m not crazy about. Flour tortillas are a bit boring to me, and unless they are freshly grilled and hot, they make me feel like I’m eating paste.
The Camaron Taco is filled with shrimp, guacamole, black bean puree and wrapped in a flour tortilla. This was my least favorite. The shrimp were covered in a weird sweet sauce that I did not enjoy. I assume it was supposed to be reminiscent of a cocktail sauce, but it just didn’t work. Also, there was a fishiness to this taco I didn’t like as well. I would never get this again.
The Chilorio Taco is filled with pulled pork and wrapped in a flour tortilla. I know you are thinking, ‘Why did you get three flour tortilla tacos if you don’t like flour tortillas, dumbass?,’ but hey, in my defense, I didn’t get a choice when ordering, and I mistakenly assumed I would be getting corn tortillas. Anyway, this was my favorite taco from the bunch. The pulled pork was soft and it wasn’t bland, but it was lacking that extra special something to make it really good. In general, this was the problem with all the tacos at Pampano Taqueria. The flavors were very muddled, and lacking excitement.
Unfortunately, I had expected more considering the tacos from Pampano Taqueria were more expensive than the tacos from El Rey del Sabor and Tulcingo del Valle. What exactly is the extra quarter or so paying for? It’s definitely not the ambiance. At the bottom level of a dark office building, I found Pampano Taqueria more depressing than either El Rey del Sabor or Tulcingo del Valle, which is inside of a bodega (in addition to take-out, Tulcingo now has a sit-down restaurant in the space next door to the deli). I think I’ll be sticking to Tulcingo del Valle and Tehuitzingo for any future taco cravings.
And to end my taco post, here is a pic from my last trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. To those who also have to tighten their belt this year, imagine yourself sitting here watching the warm waters of the North Pacific as you eat your tacos. And if you still don’t find yourself magically whisked away to the Mexican Riviera, a few Coronas can’t hurt.
UPDATE: The DOW had the biggest one-day rally since 1933 today. Maybe another little vacation is in sight for 2008. And most importantly, no machine gun necessary.
El Rey del Sabor
60th & 3rd Avenue
(North of Bloomingdale’s)
Tulcingo Del Valle
665 Tenth Ave. (nr. 47th St.)
New York, NY 10036
805 Third Ave. (nr. 49th St.)
New York, NY 10022