That dream where you’re taking an exam in high school, and suddenly you realize, a beat before everyone else, you’re naked never happened to me. Still, I think I can suss out the meaning. It is about, especially in our teen years, feeling like you don’t fit in.
Even though I missed out on this somnolent rite of passage, I recently experienced a real life situation that’s the dream’s fully clothed cousin.
Any conversation about tacos in the five boroughs usually begins and ends with Rockaway Taco. For a long time, I had no horse in the New York City taco debate since I had not been and my favorite place – Taqueria – calls Jersey City home, even though it does have a Manhattan outpost that I have never been too. [A quick side note. Both Taqueria in JC and Rockaway Taco were hit hard by Sandy, a storm that hit us all, but hit certain neighborhoods particularly hard. Go to them. Go to both. They’re good local businesses who have come back.]
It wasn’t one of those situations where you walk by a place, say to yourself “Next weekend,” and keep going. A slightly delayed Amtrak train will get you to Philadelphia quicker than it takes to get from Union Square to Rockaway Taco. So when I found myself at a meeting for work that was happening directly across the street from Rockaway Taco, I made sure to stop by after we were done.
You know those beach movies like Gidget and films staring Frankie Valli? If any character showed up in a suit, straight away it was clear, they were the square. I mean, who shows up to the beach in a suit that isn’t for bathing? A square.
Who’s got two thumbs and shows up to a taco shack a stone’s throw away from the beach in a suit on one of the hottest days of the summer? This guy. No one razzed me with 50’s surfer burns, but even if they had, the food would have made it worth it.
The thing about Rockaway Taco is that the ingredients are fresh. Really fresh. And if you order the Watermelon Juice like I did, that is where you will first realize what you are in for. The initial sip is jarring in that a watermelon beverage is typically syrupy and sugary (kids division) or is a watermelon doppelgänger (beer division). The watermelon juice at Rockaway Taco is the real deal and exceptionally refreshing. It is both one of the best things I’ve drank all summer.
Naturally, since I was in a suit, by the beach, in the middle of the day, by the time my tacos were ready, I had already powered through the drink. I ordered the chorizo (my go to at all taco joints) and the fried fish tacos. When you are there, you have to get the guac as a topping. It runs laps around probably most guac you have had in the city and it is an infinitely cheaper add-on for $1.
Both tacos were very good, but the fish taco is the stand out. Who among us isn’t a sucker for fried foods? But fried food, and fried fish in particular, when done well are a delight. If the Gorton’s Fisherman ever realized this was what breaded-slash-fried fish should taste like, he’d move to a landlocked state and give up the game.
The only issue I had was the space. We crossed paths with a large contingent that was coming from the beach and adding themselves to a surprisingly formidable midweek mid-day line as we were leaving. But even with our good timing, the bench space was less than conducive for eating comfortably. I get most people probably walk it back to the beach or boardwalk, but even the space for waiting is cramped.
It is easy to get caught up in the hype of a place that defines a neighborhood’s cuisine options and has become as revered as Rockaway Taco. But as I took the Q53 from the Rockaways to the subway stop at Queens Center Mall, my one-hour ride to the M Train on a bus that got as packed as the waiting space at Rockaway Taco and crawled along Woodhaven Boulevard gave me a chance to assess whether I’d make this trip again for same the meal. The answer is yes. Even in a suit.