From the vast cornucopia of gastronomy, the SIR (single item restaurant) plucks, ponders, and raises up one paragon, one precious totem, above all others as worthy of our singular, undivided attention. Mac 'n Cheese has sired a SIR. Frites? They've been favorited. Even nuggets got the nod. And now it's the taquito's turn, thanks to the unambiguously named Taquitoria, which opened recently on Ludlow Street.
With hours tailored to the neighborhood's reveling class, Taquitoria serves up four differently stuffed taquitos (tacos that have been rolled up into cigars and fried), which you can choose to "style" with one or both of two topping options. Taquitos come in sets of either three ($5) or five ($8). (A set of three gotten "chronic style," or with both toppings, will run you eight bucks.)
A set of taquitos must have all the same fillings, so in order to try all 12 potential permutations of filling plus styling, you'd have to purchase 36 total taquitos...for a tasting-menu-esque price of $72. But those extremes aren't necessary to experience the full breadth of what Taquitoria has to offer; the man behind the counter on a recent Saturday afternoon—easily recognizable as Brad Holtzman, one of the three partners in the establishment and its general manager—steered us toward what he considered the best filling-and-styling combinations for all four of Taquitoria's taquitos. A taquito all-star mini-tasting, if you will.
First up, the taquito filled with Chicken, "cheesy" style. The bird is braised in Bloody Mary mix from Restaurant Marc Forgione, leaving the meat juicy, tender, and slightly spicy. (The Tribeca spot is responsible for introducing the three partners, all seasoned restaurant vets, to one another.) Going "cheesy" means squeezes of nacho cheese sauce and sour cream and dollops of pickled jalapeño. The nacho cheese is a blunt instrument in an otherwise sharp ensemble of toppings; it could use some more dimension. But from the first bit to the last, it was clear these guys had done their tortilla homework: the rolled and fried shells were all nicely crunchy and not at all greasy.
With the Beef taquito, Holtzman paired the "classic" styling: a squeeze of house guac sauce topped with shredded romaine, topped with a dusting of cotija cheese. The guac sauce, wherever deployed, always seemed to get lost. Perhaps there just wasn't enough of it in the taquitos we got, but the beef filling didn't speak up much, either. Here is where Taquitoria's tasty, well-seasoned Pancho sauce, included with every order, comes in handy to kick up the flavor.
Now we arrive at the chronic style Black Bean taquito. Somehow this grab bag of toppings actually works. The bold and spicy black bean filling is the lynchpin, giving the taquito itself enough presence to balance out all the other players.
The Pork filling was another favorite. The simpler classic topping proved the right move, allowing the juicy, smoke-kissed, pull-apart meat to really shine. (Which is not to say you shouldn't take these little piggies for a dip in the Pancho pool.)
You can't help but wonder why three dudes with fine dining pedigrees would open a tiny snack shack in the Lower East Side. Obviously the formula of (high-traffic) location plus (quickly nourishing, handheld) product plus (often in-the-bag) clientele makes sense. But we also got the sense, at least from Holtzman, that these guys genuinely love what they're doing. And you can taste it in their food.