Tag Archives: tacos

Managing the Taquito Expectation Game

Even with cheap eats, it is tough to get a proper read on just how good the food actually is when it’s delivered. The jostling in the car or on the bike as it comes your way changes the composition. Fitting the food into a transportable container that removes any added value that comes from the presentation at a sit down place. This is particularly true in the winter when your food can go from steaming hot to room temperature in the time it takes the delivery guy to bike from the Lower East Side to Union Square. Doubly so this past winter.

I came to this realization working late one night after ordering from Taquitoria – the home of taquitos in the Lower East Side. Some of what I ordered was good, some was just ok. But I chalked it up to the bitterly cold evening conditions playing tricks with the once-warm food. So, my buddy and I decided to visit Taquitoria and try the rolled, fried tacos in person.

Taquito taquitoHaving read the reviews for Taquitoria, the Buffalo Chicken was highly recommended. Not one to quibble with a good thing, I asked the guy behind the counter on a recent Tuesday evening for an order of buffalo chicken taquitos. The guy said, “Sorry, man. Those are only available on Sundays.”

Undeterred, we each ordered the Cheesy Pork Taquitos. A quick lesson here – classic = guac sauce, shredded lettuce, cotija cheese; cheesy = nacho cheese, sour cream, and pickled jalapeno relish.

The pork taquito succeeds where the chicken taquito does not. The pork has a taste. It is spicy and when matched with pickled jalapeno and paired with nacho cheese and sour cream makes for a great taste balance. The chicken taquito falls short because it has so little taste to it. The most distinct thing about it is that it is shredded.

And it was that fact that kept me thinking about the buffalo chicken taquito. If it’s only served on Sundays, it must be really special. Maybe the chicken has buffalo sauce and ranch with it on the inside of the taquito. Maybe the taquito has that buffalo chicken you sometimes see behind the deli counter.

I started telling friends and co-workers about it. They got intrigued. We decided to go on a Sunday afternoon to try the buffalo chicken taquito. It had become something mythical. Off-the-menu and only available one day a week. Scarcity creates demand and we had become a demanding bunch.

So, maybe it was the buildup that led to the disappointment. The five us were the first customers of the day. I stepped up and ordered the cheesy buffalo chicken taquitos. The guy behind the counter tells me I don’t need to go cheesy since they come with ranch and buffalo sauces. He’s the buff chix taquito expert so I defer to him. A few minutes after all of us order the first sign of trouble arises. The guy goes to the back and comes out with small containers of buffalo and ranch sauce.

And then it hits when he brings the buffalo chicken taquitos out. They are the chicken taquitos. Only ranch and buffalo in condiment cups on the side. Without the cheesy or classic toppings, the taquitos look as uninspiring as the chicken tastes. My buddy who’d come on the first visit was there as well and he was equally disappointed by the realization that off-the-menu secret was actually very much on menu and very much underwhelming. The item only available on Sunday is dipping sauces.

My other friends had the pork taquito which was still great. The classic steak which I tried was good – much closer to the pork in terms of quality. A friend of mine who has gone to other cheap eats places with me said this was the best she’d been to. She had the steak taquitos. The chips and salsa have a nice flavor to them with the salsa going from mild at first taste to a zesty medium on second taste.

Taquitoria is the type of the place that doesn’t make any qualms about what it is. You can see the guys behind the counter taking pre-rolled, pre-fried taquitos out and heat them up after people order. It’s easy to let the buffalo chicken taquito debacle color one’s opinion of the place, but when it comes to taquitos, two out of four is pretty good.

Take the A Train…to Rockaway Taco (During Rush Hour Only – Otherwise, Please Kindly Switch to the Shuttle at Broad Channel)

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.