Calexico's carne asada tacos are a delicious treat. (Lauren A. Smith)
In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we’ve tracked down the city’s must-have Mexican eats — tacos.
Despite a popular misconception, Cinco de Mayo is not actually Mexican independence day. The holiday actually commemorates the Mexican defeat of French forces in the battle of Puebla in 1862 and is only celebrated in the Puebla region of Mexico. But here in the city, it’s often an excuse to celebrate all things Mexican.
Our taco meter helps you find the city’s best tacos, on May 5 or anytime of year.
Calexico Carne Asada
Trucks: Wooster St and Prince St; Crosby St and Broome St
Restaurant: 122 Union St at Columbia St; 718-488-8226
The three brothers behind the Calexico Carne Asada fleet of taco trucks deliver tasty tacos (for under $5 a pop) to hungry crowds in Soho. For those who'd prefer to skip the lunch line--which can often mean a 20-minute
wait--head to Carroll Gardens to experience the perfectly spiced carne asada taco topped with avocado crema or the pork taco topped with pickled onions.
Average taco: $3-$4
Tacometer rating: 4.5 out of 5
Hecho en Dumbo
354 Bowery at Great Jones St., 212-937-4245
This sleek Mexican eatery is famous for its tasty, tiny Mexico City-style tacos and killer cocktails, such as the tamarind margarita. The menu focuses on “antojitos” or “little bites”, like the excellent, grilled beef short rib taco, served on a handmade yellow corn tortilla (with the bone on the side). A special menu will be served on May 5 honoring dishes from the state of Puebla.
Average price: $8-9.50 (for three tacos)
Tacometer rating: Tacos de Costilla (short rib): 4 out of 5
1542 Second Ave. at 80th St, 212-717-7800
This casual, fun and colorful UES taqueria offers counter service. But these aren’t your classic street-style snacks —Cascabel’s pescado, or fish taco, for example, features an unusual combination of tuna, hearts of palm and slices of olive. We prefer the more classic-leaning carne asada taco. A serve-yourself salsa bar offers a variety of spicy accompaniments for taco toppings.
Average price: $7.50 (for two tacos).
Tacometer rating: Pescado taco: 2 out of 5. Carne asada taco: 3 out of 5
147 Avenue A at E. 9th St., 212-260-0235
Fans of lucha libre — Mexican-style professional wrestling — will get a kick out of this slim, if slightly kitschy East Village taco stand, where exposed brick walls are festively decorated with glittery wrestling masks and vintage Spanish posters. Toothsome tacos — such as the delectable carnitas taco topped with pickled red onions and plenty of cilantro — arrive open-faced. Looking to save a few dollars? You can catch dinner and a movie — if vintage lucha libre videos count.
Average taco: $3.50 each
Tacometer rating: Carnitas: 3.5 out of 5.
77 Saint Marks Pl. at First Ave; 212-777-2537;
359 Ave. of the Americas at W. Fourth St.; 212-243-6870
You’d be hard pressed to find a seat at either location of on Cinco de Mayo, which, according to co-chef and co-owner, Barbara Sibley, “is a time to be proud to be Mexican in all its different traditions.” Sibley, who hails from Mexico City, is presenting a special menu May 3-9, inspired by the colors of the Mexican flag — green, white and red. A regular menu treat: The tender tacos al pastor have just a hint of sweetness — as the pork is rubbed with chile and pineapple. Yum!
Average price: $5.95 per taco.
Tacometer rating: Pork al pastor taco: 4 out of 5
732 Classon Ave., Brooklyn; 718-622-3100
This quaint Prospect Heights taco spot features soft corn tortillas piled high with tasty South-of-the-Border toppings, such as “nopales”— or cactus — and pickled jalapenos. “Daily specials such as tongue tacos are totally worth a try,” said Tracy Lawson, 30, a regular. An outdoor space and pitchers of sangria make this a great choice for an al fresco outing.
Average taco: $3 per taco (cash only).
Tacometer rating: Carne enchilada (pork) taco: 5 out of 5
And for margaritas…
Strongest: If you judge by the decibel level after happy hour, Zarela’s (953 Second Ave. at 50th St; 212-644-6740) wins hands down ($9) with this super-potent tipple, made from Silver Patron, triple sec and fresh lime. Other varieties include mango, guava, passion fruit, strawberry, raspberry and pomegranate.
Cheapest: Blockheads (multiple locations, blockheads.com) can’t be beat for $3 a pop, though service can be spotty and waits long for outdoor seating. For an additional $1, try other flavors, including coconut, peach, banana, papaya, kiwi and watermelon.
Freshest: The mango, guava, tamarind, strawberry and raspberry versions at El Centro (824 Ninth Ave at 54th St.; 646-763-6585) make their $12 price tag worthwhile.