East Harlem is one of Manhattan's better taco neighborhoods, so for this week's Taco Thrusday, I explored two taco stops on East 116th Street—Taco Mix and the Tacos de Arroz Grocery Cart.
Taco Mix is a tiny shop—just one table and a counter for standing, but that counter's packed with anything you could want with your taco. Lime wedges, radish slices, cucumber slices, green and red salsas, fried chiles de arbol, and two types of marinated jalapeños. All this in addition to what the taqueros add to the taco when you order one con todo—chopped onions, cilantro, and salsa roja.
The double-layered, meat-packed little tacos cost $2.00 each. The mixto (pictured at top) includes all of the extra bits and pieces of meat tossed together at a taqueria: oreja (pig's ear), buche (pork stomach), and suadero (tender beef, usually brisket). I couldn't really distinguish the buche from the suadero, but I could definitely identify the oreja, and the white bits of cartilage were almost melting into flavorful fat. Often oreja can be crunchy or chewy, but at Taco Mix, the mixed ingredients all combined into a soft, meaty mass. Onion gave some crunch, and the mild red salsa and squeeze of lime added acidity, cutting some of the fat. A good taco.
The taco de suadero was filled with tender meat that had no fat or gristle—just soft, shredded, beef that really tasted like beef. Though it was already topped with cilantro, onions, and a mild red sauce, I added some of the avocado salsa that was in front of me at the counter for some contrast—creamy and tangy with a little heat, when combined with the flavorful meat, made it my second favorite taco.
Al pastor is a specialty at Taco Mix, and they do it particularly well. The spiced pork meat, rotating on a spit all day, is shaved to order, and a slice of the pineapple atop the spit is thrown into the soft tortillas as well. There were soft as well as crunchy pieces of meat, the outer edges on the spit reaching a near bacon-like crispness; combined with the sweetness of grilled pineapple and topped with a smoky and smooth chipotle salsa, each bite was better than the next. Absolutely worth the trip uptown.
234 East 116th Street, New York NY (map) 212-831-8147
Tacos de Arroz Grocery Cart
There was quite a crowd in front of this nice setup—a grocery cart fitted with a comal for heating up tortillas, a large pot full of fixings, and even a little counter, on the sidewalk across from Delgado Travel on 116th Street. I had to get a taco here once I realized what the lady was selling: simple and very filling tacos de arroz, rice stuffed tacos accompanied by a variety of other fillings: milanesa de pollo (breaded chicken breast), hard-boiled eggs, chiles rellenos (cheese-stuffed poblano peppers), chorizo con papa (sausage and potatoes).
I decided on a chile relleno, and she placed the chile on two heated tortillas, along with a few spoonfuls of warm rice and then some sliced jalapeños. Not a pretty taco, but full of flavor and heat, perfect for a rainy day. The chile relleno had been battered and fried, and was soggy at that point. The poblano pepper was quite spicy, but the melted white cheese that it had been stuffed with was mild and soothing. The rice, strongly tasting of tomato and onion, also tamed the heat, although the jalapeño and onion topping brought it back up. I wish I had gotten more varieties of taco—rice and hard boiled egg is a classic Mexican combination, especially good when doused with the spicy, vinegary liquid from pickled jalapeños. These hearty tacos cost $3.00 each.
Tacos de Arroz Grocery Cart
In front of 171 East 116th Street, New York NY (map)