"If this were a burrito episode of Iron Chef, Dos Toros would be the winner."
Dos Toros Taqueria
137 Fourth Avenue, New York NY 10003 (b/n 13th and 14th; map); 212-677-7300; dostorosnyc.com/
Service: Speedy, friendly, strangely efficient
Setting: Walk-up counter with table seating for ten
Compare It To: Chipotle, Calexico
Must-Haves: Any quesadilla in the place, beef burritos, chicken burritos with guacamole
Cost: $3.67 tacos, $7.35 burritos
Grade: A, quesadillas; B+, steak and chicken burritos; B, carnitas anything, tacos
I admit it. Mission-style burrito joint Dos Toros Taqueria is in Serious Eats's wheelhouse, and somehow, we didn't make it over there in the two months they have been open. So we have no excuses—only remorse—for allowing Oliver Strand at the Times to beat us to the punch (or, should we say, the horchata). Strand is younger than this serious eater, which probably explains why he didn't mention Dos Toros's predecessor in New York—the much beloved Kitchen on Eighth Avenue, which regrettably went out of business two years ago.
But I digress. Once we got past the embarassment of being scooped, we picked ourselves up off the ground and hustled down to Dos Toros for a Friday lunch. Its reputation preceded us, so at 12:12 on a Friday afternoon, we found ourselves in line at the cheerful storefront. What did we find when got to the front of the line (which, thanks to some kind of bizarre hipster efficiency, was only ten minutes)?
We basically ordered one of everything on the menu—namely, soft tacos, crispy tacos, burritos, and quesadillas—filled with either pork (carnitas), beef (carne asada), chicken (pollo asado) or no meat, plus rice, your choice of black or pinto beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, hot sauce, and guacamole ($0.92 extra).
Dos Toros uses Tortilleria Nixtamal tortillas from Corona, Queens, and that was the first of many good decisions made by owners Leo and Oliver Kremer—who turn out, generally speaking, to know what good is. The tortillas are thin, flaky, and taste of fresh masa.
The burritos (all $7.35) are plenty hefty, as they are in the Mission in San Francisco, and they are made with considerable care. Most of the bite-sized pieces of pollo asado, grilled chicken thigh, are shockingly moist. Ditto the chunks of skirt steak in the carne asada. Surprisingly to this avowed pork lover, the stringy carnitas is the driest meat in the joint. Some people, like Midtown Lunch's Zach Brooks, who attended our hastily assembled lunch, think it's okay if the protein is dry in a Mission-style burrito because the other wet elements compensate. I respectfully disagree. Dry is dry, when it comes to pork, and it's not acceptable in any form.
The fresh-tasting, mildy seasoned creamy guacamole ($0.92) is a meaningful addition to any chicken or pork item, and the spritely pico de gallo makes anything you order taste better at Dos Toros.
Those delicious tortillas are the housing for both the hard and soft tacos. The soft are steamed and the hard are not deep-fried, but rather griddled, so they are not all that crunchy. These tacos are good but in no way earth-shattering. They're bigger and more filling than what you'd find on a taco truck (as they should be, at $3.67 for one), but the flavors are not as bright as I would have liked. There are better tacos to be had in Jackson Heights and Corona, on Amsterdam Avenue above 100th Street, and, of course, in Sunset Park.
The rice was standard burrito rice, nothing more, nothing less, and neither the underseasoned black nor the dull-tasting pinto beans did much for me, either. Even if you don't care much for hot sauce, you might ask for a taste of the freshly made, fairly mild green serrano and jalapeño hot sauce or salsa, because it really amps up the flavor of the rice and beans.
The stars of the menu at Dos Toros are the quesadillas ($5.97), which were somewhat revelatory. A flour tortilla that has been crisped on the griddle, with lovely golden brown spots, is topped with a slice of jack cheese before it's built with your choice of protein, pico de gallo, and hot sauce. What makes these quesadillas revelatory is the crisped tortilla, the melted jack cheese, and the perfect ratio of tortilla to filling. I want one of these quesadillas now. I don't think there is a better quesadilla to be had in all New York City.
The Head-to-Head Chipotle Test
The question we kept asking ourselves as we munched is whether the burritos were any better than Chipotle Grill's, which, while fast-food creations, are comparably marketed and priced. So I found myself a few days later racing down to Dos Toros in a cab, while Erin (synchronized watch in hand) brought back four Chipotle burritos.
I am a fan of Chipotle—I have a lot of respect for what they do, as responsible citizens turning out tasty food while operating in the fast-food realm. But my respect made the results of the taste test that much more disappointing. Up next to Dos Toros, the Chipotle tortilla was stiff, thick, and dull. The rice and beans were underseasoned and so were the proteins. The chicken was really dry and the pork and beef weren't much better. The Chipotle guacamole is fine, and the various salsas are really the strongest part of its game. Good to know—the small shop beat the chain, hands-down.
So if you're looking for a burrito in New York, there's your answer. If this were a burrito episode of Iron Chef, Dos Toros would be the winner. If they spiced the beans more intensely and moistened the pork, I wouldn't have to hold the memory of my beloved Kitchen so close to my heart. But Kitchen is not coming back any time soon, so in the meantime, I will happily make do with Dos Toros.