First of all, let me say how wonderful the response to Lost Taco has been and how much I appreciate all the comments and the recommendations. It’s deeply satisfying to hear from so many passionate taco-savvy readers. For those of you who linked me on your blogs and message boards, I’m very grateful and when I can I’ll point people in your direction. Last Friday, we got nods from Serious Eats, Thrillist and Chow, among others. I can now categorically say that anyone who says there is no taco scene in NYC is flat-out wrong.
On to more important matters. I received many recommendations, and I’m looking forward to following up on all of them, but out of sheer laziness (and a clamoring for more Manhattan spots) I decided to try Zaragoza Mexican Deli and Grocery in the East Village first. I was particularly keen on trying the veal taco, which sounded decadent and delicious.
Part of me hated to find a good taco in the East Village. It’s already so spoiled with incredible food. Bennat lives on 12th St. and he’s always bragging about how many great restaurants are on his block. I have to walk fifteen minutes minimum from my apartment to find food that isn’t being served off a steam table, so when I realized this place was like a block away from his house, it kind of pissed me off. But I liked what I saw from the outside (windows cluttered with press clippings and Christmas lights) and I brightened immediately when I walked in and saw rows of my favorite store-bought salsa, El Yucateco.
I ordered two tacos, goat and veal, grabbed a Mexican Coke and sat down to watch the soccer game that was on Univision. I watched the man behind the register prepare my tacos. He put the meat on the small tortillas and asked me if I wanted salsa. Absolutely, I do. He gave me cucumbers and a pickled jalapeno. He put the plate down on the counter. It looked wonderful. The rich browns of the meat and the bright salsa. I started to salivate just looking at the pickled jalapeno. (Even writing about it now, I’m experiencing a physiological response.)
The goat taco was overflowing with meat, so I stabbed a few pieces with a fork and put them in my mouth. Oh, what a flavor…the indescribable taste of the shank stewed for hours and hours until it’s buttery and tender. The stray bits of salsa and onion provided texture, heat and tang. I swooned. I picked up the taco and devoured it.
Let’s not kid ourselves, this is a serious taco by ANY standard, not just a lowered NYC bar. It had that pop, that quality that seems to typify all great food, that moment when you find yourself struck dumb. The flavors are in some ways impossible to separate, and why would you want to? They’re balanced, working together. This is a great taco, the first really great taco I’ve had in NYC.
I snatched up the veal and ate half of it in one bite. The meat didn’t taste as good to me. The richness was overpowering, too fatty, too creamy. I suppose it’s a matter of taste though, and the taco on the whole was good. I also thought the salsa roja on the goat really outshone the salsa verde, but that also could of been because of the meat. Next time I’m going to get everything in every possible permutation, bring like a pup tent and a sleeping bag so I can take a nap afterwards.
I ate the pickled jalapeno for dessert, reveling in the crunch, and the pain it left behind. I washed it down with Coke. Then I went back and ordered another goat taco. I wasn’t hungry, but I couldn’t help myself.
Zaragoza Mexican Deli and Grocery
215 Avenue A
East Village, Manhattan, NYC