Taco Thursdays: Vegetarian Tacos Aztecas at Café Ollin, East Harlem
It isn't always easy to find really great tacos in this city that are made purely out of vegetables. Many places have a vegetarian offering, but it's just whatever veggies happen to be laying around. At Café Ollin, a cute and colorful Mexican café in East Harlem, there has been much thought put into the vegetarian Azteca Special, a combination of ingredients that can be ordered in a torta, cemita, or a taco, but seems best in taco form.
Sliced and fried potatoes, roasted nopales, grilled onions, charred jalapenos, slices of tomato, quesillo or stringy cheese, all studded with slivers of the herb epazote, stuffed into a double layer of tortillas, and, when ordered con todo, is then topped with crema, cotija cheese, crisp lettuce, chopped raw onions, cilantro, and a generous amount of avocado slices. How's that for a vegetarian (albeit lacto-ovo veggie) taco?
Each bite has too many temperature, texture, and flavor contrasts to list but the best combos are the warm potatoes with the cold sour cream, the stringy cheese with the crisp lettuce and the soft avocado, and the fresh, healthy flavor of the grilled cactus along with the earthy epazote and the spicy, whole chiles. The tacos Aztecas come three to an order, and cost $8 with everything.
With the proud Aztec ingredients, and the red, white, and green, it really is a taco a la Mexicana.
I also sampled another order of three tacos, this time, mixed: chivo enchilado (spiced goat), pollo (chicken), and frijoles (beans) just for fun. The favorite of the three was the chicken. The chunks of chicken were juicy, with just a bit of caramelization from the flat-top, and when combined with all of the toppings—and a splash of either the creamy avocado salsa verde or the thin and spicy salsa roja—had everything you might want in a taco.
The chivo was on the stringy side, as chivo usually is, and didn't have as much spice or flavor as the word enchilado had led me to believe. My least favorite of the bunch. The bean taco was heavy, filled with refried black beans, and only necessary if there were no other vegetarian options. There was nothing wrong with it; it was actually quite good. But with the Tacos Aztecas on the menu, there's really no comparison.Three tacos con todo cost $9, with an extra $.50 added for the chivo.
Café Ollin has a large menu, with daily specials, tostadas, quesadillas, salads, tortas, cemitas, and even (my favorite) Mexican-style hot dogs. The menu looks great, and although I left without trying anything but tacos, I left happy.
339 E 108th Street, Manhattan (map)