New Yorkers are blessed with all kinds of tacos to satisfy our need for meat-stuffed tortillas, but for the true Taco Tuesday observer, it's all about crunchy tacos. Growing up, I looked forward to the nights when dinner meant one of those boxed kits from the grocery store, the golden corn taco shells snuggled into their plastic sleeve, the pouch of salty seasoning and the watery taco sauce inside one of those maddening foil packets.
Assemblage was a matter of choice: were you a ground beef, lettuce and shredded cheese purist? Were cubes of icy, flavorless tomato and dabs of sour cream obligatory? Regardless of your personal permutation, one thing was always part of the equation: the shattering of the entire taco following the first bite. If you haven't picked up the scattered remains of your taco off your plate, you haven't truly lived your best life.
Those kits are still on the grocery store shelves if you want them, but some NYC restaurants have also tapped into the delicious, nostalgic dish with their own hard shell taco creations. Below, a few spots doing right by our memories of Ortega and Old El Paso. And with all due respect to their cousins tostadas and flautas/taquitos, this list is for hard shell tacos only.
This chainlet of Mexican-inspired eateries does a lot of things very well, including their ode to the Taco Nights of our childhoods. Their "Gringo" ($5) taco is the only of their fleet to be served on a crispy corn tortilla, which is filled with the classic ground beef (theirs is done in an ancho-cumin spice blend), lettuce, cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo. Multiple locations
El Toro Blanco (via Foursquare)
EL TORO BLANCO On the fancier side, this West Village Mexican spot's embracing the crispy taco shell as well with their Escuela Vieja ($13). The trio of ground beef tacos are adorned with cheddar cheese, pico de gallo and a squiggle of crema, Mexico's version of sour cream. These little gems are on the smaller size, so order up some refried beans as a vehicle for bits of shell and toppings that'll inevitably end up back on the plate after a few bites. 257 6th Avenue, (212) 645-0193; website
Mexico Lindo (via Yelp)
MEXICO LINDO Over in Kips Bay, Mexico Lindo's switching up the formula a bit with their Tacos Gringos ($15.95). Give it an order and they'll deliver you three hard shell tacos: two stuffed with chicken and another stuffed with ground beef. All three come with both iceberg and red cabbage for freshness and crunch, plus a salsa made with guajillo peppers. An order also comes with yellow rice and refried pinto beans. 459 2nd Avenue, (212) 679-3665; website
This Greenwich Village standby does all the classic Tex-Mex/Americana Mexican dishes: sizzling platters of fajitas, giant salads served inside a fried tortilla shell and hard shell tacos that shatter into a million pieces after the first bite, as they should. The restaurant serves big platters of Tacos ($17) made with fried corn tortillas stuffed with either beef or chicken and the requisite shredded lettuce and cheeses. The tacos come with a side of yellow rice, beans and a little salad to catch all the taco innards. 86 University Place, (212) 255-9378; website
San Loco (via Facebook)
SAN LOCO It pains me to admit, but there have been moments in my post-college life where I've turned to San Loco to get a quick—and super cheap—Mexican fix. Truth be told: it's really not as bad as my memory led me to believe. The "Gringo-Mex" menu's pretty big and includes the most variety of fillings of anywhere else in the city. Traditional ground beef's an option, as are roasted veggies, pinto beans and fried catfish. The selections top out at $4.50—cheese, lettuce, tomato and one of their sauces included. Multiple locations
Taco Bell (via Facebook)
TACO BELL You didn't think I'd leave off the world's greatest fast food restaurant—besides Popeye's—and their long tradition of crunchy tacos did you? No, of course not. Their Dorito-fied versions might be enjoying the most buzz, but their classic Crunchy Tacos are near perfect in their simplicity: salty taco shell, seasoned ground beef, flavorless shredded cheese and even more flavorless shredded lettuce. Don't forget the Fire sauce. Multiple locations