The Best Tacos In NYC
photo credit: Kate Previte
At this point, to claim that NYC isn’t a taco town would be as cliché as saying New York is just a rat race full of very rude rats. It would also be incorrect (though we have seen actual rats in a race). You can find some really great tacos all over the city, whether they’re glossy birria tacos from a truck underneath some subway tracks, or Taco Bell breakfast taco doppelgängers that are only available one day a week.
When you get to Taqueria Ramirez in Greenpoint, you’ll see a choricera and comal (both custom made in Mexico City), colorful plates, and a long line. Don’t worry, the line moves quickly. Get the suadero—which is stewed in lard and spices for three hours and served in a fat-soaked corn tortilla—or order our favorite taco, the tripa, which is blowtorched seconds before it arrives in your hands. Every taco costs around $4 or $5, and, after you stop by, you’ll forever view every $20 bill as an opportunity to get a four or five-course dinner here.
Playita is a tiny seafood-focused spot for tacos and mariscos on the Lower East Side, but they also make a stellar duck carnitas. There's a small side counter with enough space for two people to stand if you want to use this as an extremely low-key and satisfying spot to meet up with someone you met on an app, or for a quick and not-boring solo lunch. We love the pescadilla, a crunchy food-lover's dream of a hard shell taco stuffed with fish and slaw.
Los Tacos is a Tijuana-style taco shop that started in Chelsea Market in 2013, and you’ll still consistently find lines here any time you go. But now they also have locations all around Manhattan—including a very useful spot near Grand Central, and others near Times Square and Penn Station. Every location looks and feels more or less the same: white tiling, a fast-moving line, a counter where you can stand and eat. Your choices are: marinated pork, steak, chicken, or cactus, on flour or corn tortillas. We opt for carne asada, adobada, or nopal tacos with all the fixings, but you really can’t make a bad decision here. The key, though, is to load up on the salsas at the bar.
If you want to eat the best fish tacos in NYC, you're going to have to get out of Manhattan and hit Rockaway Beach, where—during the summer months only—you’ll find a restaurant called Tacoway Beach inside of a surf club. Flaky tilapia is heavily battered, fried, and served super crispy in a corn tortilla with slaw, crema, radishes, and lime. We recommend ordering all of your tacos "deluxe" with just the right amount of guacamole on top. While we don't necessarily suggest doing anything other than ordering as many fish tacos as your body can handle, the chorizo and tofu tacos are solid too.
Yellow Rose’s tortillas are integral to most of the short, squiggly-font menu. Their Sonoran-style flour tortillas are perfectly chewy and blistered, and you should enjoy them in the form of a couple of tacos. The space is large, rustic, and the perfect spot for a casual brunch or weeknight dinner. Other than the bean and cheese, our favorites are the papas rancheras and the carne guisada. The components at play may seem straightforward, but the textures will convince you to come back for more.
Taqueria Al Pastor consistently makes some of our favorite tacos in Bushwick. It’s a counter-service spot with some space to stand and eat, but for the most part you’re getting your food here to go. You should, of course, order at least one taco al pastor. It’ll come piled with strips of crispy marinated pork and cubed pineapple, and a single hefty taco will make for a respectable snack. The sneaky truth of Taqueria Al Pastor, though, is that their carne asada tastes even better than their pork. Chunks of garlicky grilled beef are blanketed by a generous slap of guacamole on a sturdy house-made corn tortilla. Stop by this casual spot in Bushwick for what’s likely to be the best 10 minutes of your day.
There’s a good chance you won’t actually be able to eat these tacos today, because Border Town is a pop-up, and pop-ups are elusive. But it’s worth keeping an eye on their Instagram for residencies and events, because these small-batch tortilla makers turn out beautiful lard-kissed flour tortillas, and then stuff them with things like chicharrones in salsa roja, and the smoothest, gentlest refried beans we’ve ever had. If you can't possibly wait, Border Town’s tortillas are sold at Big Night, and Marlow & Daughters. They won’t quite measure up to the full experience, but anything you put in them instantly tastes good, even if you don't know how to scramble an egg.
Everything at Los Mariscos, from the people behind Los Tacos No. 1, tastes like it was caught from an ocean five minutes ago. Your taco options are shrimp, spicy shrimp, and, our favorite, fried battered fish. The whole operation is casual and efficient, and unlike Los Tacos No. 1—which feels like it’s in a food court—you can comfortably hang out at Los Mariscos for multiple rounds of beers and tacos.
Tacos El Bronco has a brick and mortar location on 4th Ave in Sunset Park, and a truck not far away on 5th Ave. We recommend going to the truck, which always has a fun crowd outside, and is also the location where they serve their very popular birria tacos. The al pastor is a must-order, but the best option is the campechanos, which includes salty beef, pork sausage, and crispy pork skin.
Birria-Landia makes the city’s best birria, full stop. This Tijuana-style truck certainly didn’t invent birria, and it definitely wasn’t the first NYC place serving it—but this place gave birria the headliner status it always deserved. There’s always going to be a line outside of their brightly-lit trucks, located at 1st and Houston on the LES, near the Metropolitan Ave stop in Williamsburg, and on Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The menu is tight, focused, and flawless. Order a few of the tacos on broth-dipped tortillas, and dunk them into a cup of the mysteriously rich consome. First, you’ll taste lime, then tender meat, then adobo, then dripping fat, with everything melting together in your unworthy mouth.
Tacos árabes are the predecessors to the ever-popular tacos al pastor, and Don Pepe Jugos y Tortas is the place to get them. The menu is a bit chaotic, with handwritten neon signs plastered over every available bit of wall tempting you to try some torta, juice, or taco—but try to stay focused. The tacos árabes here are richly spiced with cumin, sweetened with bits of pineapple, and served in little flour tortillas. They’re worth making a trip for. Bring a friend and grab a torta and some juices while you’re at it.
Casa Carmen is a fancy restaurant in Tribeca where you can go for a nice night out, and they also have some of the more fancy tacos on this list. At $16-$19 for two, they’re pricey, but quite large, and all of them come piled with so much filling that it’s challenging to close them. The ones with huge slabs of tender and juicy beef tongue are the best lengua tacos we’ve ever had, and we're also fans of the tacos with lamb barbacoa.
The Blue Light Speak Cheesy is a beloved Greenpoint breakfast joint with a few counter seats in the window and a nice partially-enclosed outdoor seating area. On Wednesdays they make breakfast tacos, and they're some of our favorites in the city. Imagine a Taco Bell breakfast taco, but made entirely from high-quality ingredients. The double-decker exterior contains both a soft tortilla and a crunchy taco shell welded together with a layer of beans and cheese and filled with scrambled eggs and other delicious fillings.
If you want to eat tacos and watch some sports, check out Mama Lupita’s Bistro in Greenwood Heights. Wherever you sit, you’ll have a great view of a TV that might be showing some football (not the American kind) or a Yanks/Sox game. Their tacos (listed as taquitos on the menu) are a great deal at $2 each, and all are really tasty, but we especially like the ones with tiny bits of grilled peppery steak.
Everything is made fresh to order at La Abuelita, a tiny restaurant tucked in the back of a Bushwick bodega. There are a few tables across from the cold beverage cases and next to the open kitchen where you can watch your food being made to order. Order the tinga con todo and watch as the women in the back mash avocados for guac while freshly-pressed tortillas bubble up on the griddle. These tacos are so chock full of fillings, they’re almost a fork-and-knife job. We recommend grabbing an outdoor table in their backyard and settling down to give the tacos your full attention.
Plaza Ortega in Bushwick is a vibrant, colorful explosion of a restaurant, which also has a bodega section in the front where you can buy basic groceries, as well as a separate area for paletas and ice cream. There are a lot of birria tacos in NYC, and many of them are enormous. At Plaza Ortega, though, you can easily down a trio of two-bite birria tacos and a cup of consomme while leaving plenty of room to sample the rest of the menu. We also love their gringas al pastor, amped up with the addition of griddled cheese. Everything has a nice buzzy heat that pairs well with Plaza Ortega’s excellent mangonadas.