"Echame 5 pa empezar! Give me five to start!"
So reads the printed slogan of East Harlem's Taco Mix, a prudent command once you realize how good the tacos are. The taqueria's specialty is al pastor: chile-marinated pork stacked in thin layers on on a vertical rotisserie. The rotisserie, or "trompo," is a descendant of what's used to cook Lebanese shawarma. The pork's oily, orange drippings run down the stack, basting the layers as they crisp under the heat. The magnificent column of meat—bookended by slow-roasting pineapple— is sliced into thin shavings for tacos. It has the ability to stop pedestrians dead in their tracks.
Most taquerias hawking al pastor in New York skip the spit, but Taco Mix maintains the tradition. The tacquero slices from the trompo with the dexterity of a sushi chef. He slips the shards and some pineapple into two stacked Poblanita tortillas—an exceptional brand of tiny thick tortillas from Yonkers—and tops them with a fine dice of cilantro and onion. When combined in a taco, the smoky sweetness of the meat radiates off the blackened edges of the tropical fruit.
There are other offerings, of course: tortas ($8.00) with meat and Oaxacan cheese that sizzle on the griddle; floppy quesadillas ($5); and a daily guisado ($8), like beef stewed with chunks of potato and jalapenos, served with rice and beans.
Also pay attention to the gorditas ($4.50): crisp chopped meat combined with masa to form fat corn patties studded with bits of bacon. They'rere split open English muffin-style, toasted, and filled with cheese. The meat is crisped on an inverted comal; the shallow, convex pan fries meat, curls of pig skin, and chunks of fat while grease drips off toward the sides. The rendered fat isn't wasted. Every tortilla takes a dip in it before heating on the griddle—the perfect taco lubricant.
234 E 116 St. New York, NY 10029 (map)