Can someone remind me why we're on the border of Karaoke Town at 39th Street and not blackout drunk, attempting to hit the high notes in "Living On A Prayer?" Oh right, this is where one of the hottest new restaurant openings of the year is located. Weird. Maybe it's a genius attempt to be the first noteworthy dining establishment to take on a desolate, sad part of Murray Hill usually reserved for absolutely nothing. Or maybe it's not. Either way, that's exactly where you'll find Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield's new buzzy taco joint, Salvation Taco.
Taking an area that hardly anyone cares about and making it cool is something these two are quite familiar with. Just think back to what the newly coined "Nomad" neighborhood was before The Ace Hotel and its restaurants, The Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar opened. This time though, we're not so sure. We're confused by the selection of the Pod Hotel in which Salvation Taco lives. As far as we can tell after dining here several times, this hotel - and therefore restaurant - mainly attracts college-aged tourists with big ass backpacks. It sort of reminds us of a scene from the movie Hostel, and sadly not the scene where all the hot girls are getting naked. This one just feels a little curious to us, and a bit off-brand for the dopeness that we've come to expect from team Spotted Pig. The Pod Hotel just isn't cool. At all.
Our beef with Salvation Taco is not with the grub. The tacos, although unconventional, are pretty damn good. The menu also features an incredibly crisp, cucumber heavy guacamole which we'd come back for, and some fun appetizers like crispy pig's feet and a tasty pork belly and pineapple salad. They also make their own tortillas on site, which is impressive. Salvation Taco even has a ping pong table, which is perfect for Murray Hill. Line up the red Solo cups and let's toss some beer pong. Sometimes though, food can only be as good as the environment you eat it in, and we're taking off major points for the overall dining experience at Salvation Taco. It's more of a bar than it is a restaurant, which is totally cool. But this bar is as bad as all the others in the area - it just doesn't happen to have all the flat screens and Giants jerseys. It's super uncomfortable, service seems to consistently come with an attitude, drinks are expensive, and the room lacks any character and/or warmth. It isn't the kind of scenario that makes you want to overpay for tacos, that's for sure.
But even despite all of the apparent warning signs, it's never smart to bet against Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield. It's entirely possible that Ken and April know something the rest of the world doesn't. Maybe The Pod Hotel is The Standard of the 2010's, with tacos. Or maybe Upper Murray Hill is about to become the next NoMad. We'd find that hard to fathom though.
Salvation's tacos aren't saving our souls, but they're definitely freestyling their way into the taco conversation here in NYC. All of Bloomfield's tacos are different, and some aren't even really tacos. A couple had Indian-ish flavors, like her Roasted Cauliflower with Curried Crema and her crowd pleasing Moroccan Lamb on Naan. Our favorite of the bunch is the Korean BBQ taco with a delicious sweet sauce. The simple Fried Fish with Mayan Mayo is fine, but not overly exiting, and the same thing can be said for Skirt Steak with Pecan and Chipotle. All our favorite ones are of the $5 variety, but there are plenty of options at $3 too, so it's not that bad in terms of pricing.Tortas
Lunch is the only time you can sample the tortas - Mexican sandwiches made on fresh baked bread they import from a Portuguese bakery in Jersey. All of them could use a little more sloppiness to them. They generally stay nicely clean and neat, instead of oozing with goodness, which is good if you don't want to get dirty during work hours, but not usually a characteristic of awesome tortas. Our favorite was the Braised Short Rib, but we also enjoyed the Grilled Lamb Tongue as well.Crispy Chicken Feet
Be brave. Eat some feet. They're crunchy and salty and taste kind of like porky pretzels.Crispy Pig Ears
Covered in spices, these ears are both crispy and sticky at the same time. They're also one of the best bar snacks on the menu. Order 'em up.Guacamole & Chips
As alluded to in the review, the guacamole is out of this world. The problem is, they serve enough for about ten chips total in tiny vessel that makes it impossible to scoop from. More guac and bigger dishes please.Pork Belly and Pineapple Salad
We loved this. It's a small bowl of large pork belly pieces and pineapple chunks that have been smothered in spicy sauce. Imagine an al pastor taco with a twist, but in salad form.Tomatillo and Jicama Salad
Nothing to see here. It's basically strands of tomatillo and jicama in a vinegar dressing of sorts, and it's kind of boring.Churros
Since the portion sizes at Salvation are tiny, you'll most definitely have room for dessert (and second dinner for that matter). Definitely indulge in some churros. Nobody in the history of life has ever been mad at a churro.