Among the recently renovated Chelsea Market's lunch options is the newcomer Los Tacos No. 1, a small stall owned by three friends looking to make real-deal tacos for New Yorkers. You may be skeptical about a Chelsea Market taco stand, and we were too, but after trying most of the menu (gulps of horchata included), you can color us impressed.
At Los Tacos No. 1 there is a two-line system: first pay, then submit your order to the cooks. While the first line moves fairly quickly, the busier second "line" takes some time—the "line" is really just a free-for-all where the pushier customers win. If there aren't many people, the wait is five to ten minutes; if there is a crowd, good luck. But once your order's in, you can customize your meal down to the type of tortilla—corn or flour. Also at the counter are stone bowls holding limes, grilled jalapeños and scallions, salsa verde, and other condiments.
The tacos ($2.50 to $3.50 depending on filling) and quesadillas ($3.50 to $4.50) come piping hot, and though small in size they're filled to the brim. Once we started digging in, it was obvious why the lines were so long. These guys do tacos right.
Hand-made tortillas have a large factor in this—here they have a delicate corn flavor, tender, fluffy texture and are just thick enough that they don't have to be double layered. The pico de gallo is fresh with a balanced touch of cilantro, and the salsa packs substantial heat. But the stall's signature is the smooth guacamole, light and creamy, as spreadable as the salsa.
The carne asada is tender and well-seasoned, but most importantly, the cooks leave it on the flat top long enough to develop real smoky char. The pollo asado, cut into small chunks, is juicy and flavorful. The nopal, or grilled cactus paddle is the weakest of the bunch, bland, a little slimy, and not much smoky flavor.
Our favorite is the bright cherry red adobada (marinated pork), which is nicely charred from its long turn on the spit, slightly sweet, and full of a gentle, vinegary heat.
The quesadillas hold up well to the tacos. In our pork version there's a layer of crispy cheese lining one side, topped with smoky abodaba, melted cheese, fresh cilantro, pico de gallo, salsa, smooth guacamole, and slivers of juicy, sweet pineapple. It's a complex, balanced quesadilla, a far cry from gooey cheese-stuffed American attempts.
If you are looking for a more substantial meal, order the guac and chips as well. The corn chips come in wide triangles generously piled into a white wax paper bag. They are thin but sturdy with a great, satisfying crunch and corn flavor. The chips are salted and seasoned well, with a slight spice, and the guacamole is barely chunky with small chopped tomatoes and a little cilantro.
To finish off, order an ice-cold horchata. With a mild rice flavor and subtle cinnamon undertones, the drink is refreshing, creamy and not too sweet. The horchata here is thin, but not watery, and it finishes with a pleasant milkiness.
The only trouble is the wait. Go before or after peak lunch hours to avoid long lines, and park yourself by the windows to eat your meal right away—these tacos aren't made to wait long.
About the author: Andrea Kang is a rising senior magazine journalism student at Northwestern University. She is the editor in chief of Spoon Magazine, Northwestern's campus food publication, and loves to blog about her food adventures at The Sunny-Side Up Kitchen.