When meeting friends in the city for Mexican food, Gothamist has learned to accept the fact that sometimes the food itself will leave something to be desired as the lethal margaritas and tequilas take center stage. Never one to rain on our friends' fiestas, we have been known to tuck into some substandard guacamole and not complain, enjoying the atmosphere and overlooking the cuisine. And sure, we've even been known to frequent a neighborhood Mexican joint that is more cute than culinarily adventurous because of the convenience factor.
But sometimes we get a major craving for the real deal: searingly hot salsa verde slathered over a barbacoa (goat) taco, lamb soup with fresh corn tortillas on the side, washed down with a cool horchata drink (like rice pudding as a beverage). While we have yet to set foot in Mexico, we have travelled there through the tastes and smells of authentic Mexican cuisine--cuisine that in recent years has become a bit easier to find in New York.
For a long time, there were few Mexicans or Mexican-Americans in New York, and the restaurant options reflected it. Only having to please gringo palates, far too many restaurants served dumbed-down versions of Tex-Mex and/or Cal-Mex. Furthermore, the few higher-end Mexican restaurants that did exist here tended to be way too pricey for anything but a once-in-awhile treat.
Fortunately for those with a Mexican food addiction, New York City has seen a large growth in Mexican immigration in the past twenty-five years, making Mexicans the third largest Latino community in New York, after Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. With all of these immigrants, mostly from the remote, rural Mixteca region of Mexico, comes the chance to find little taquerias and street vendors who are catering to a Mexican clientele.
How will you know the difference? The salsa will have plenty of cilantro as well as plenty of chile. There will be cecina (aged steak) and cesos (cow's brain) tacos alongside the more typical chicken and beef options. (And the tacos will most definitely be wrapped in a double wrapper of soft corn tortilla, just like they make them in Mexico City. This allows you to make two tacos out of one, leaving room for you to pile on more salsa verde or guacamole.) And that bottle of ice-cold Coca Cola you'll be drinking? Look closely, and you'll notice that it is imported from Mexico (the Mexicans say it tastes different than American Coke--and they just might be right).
Some places will have entrees such as chiles rellenos and mole poblano, others will just have tacos and tamales. Some joints will have a few tables where you can sit, others are part of a bodega, and just offer food to go. But wherever you find this food, it will be cheap. Prepare to eat well for less than $6.
These places come and go, and sometimes the quality can change over time, but they're not too hard to find. Just keep your eyes open--look at the clientele is. Listed below are a few options we've found; tell us of your own finds in the "Comments" section.
TAQUERIA D.F., 719 Fifth Avenue (bet. 22nd & 23rd Sts.), Brooklyn, 718-499-2969
MATAMOROS PUEBLA TAQUERIA, 193 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, 718-782-5044
EL PASO TAQUERIA, 1642 Lexington Ave., at 104th St., 212-831-9831