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New Kid on the Block: Los Tacos No. 1

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There’s nothing not to love about Los Tacos No. 1. You never have to sit down. You can see the cooks chopping the chicken in the window. The tacos are light and crispy. There’s tinfoil in the corner to wrap your own to-go plate. And for whatever reason, everyone in there seems pretty happy.

It’s the product of three kids from San Diego who thought downtown Manhattan needed some authentic Mexican street food (that’s why there’s no seats). And they weren’t wrong (there are at least another four fast taco chains landing in the neighborhood). This is their fourth iteration, and another is poised to open soon, at 41st and Park (any more and they will need a commissary to keep up).

 

Christian Pineda and Tyler Sanders met in architecture school in San Diego. Tyler grew up with Kyle Cameron. The three of them moved east after school to make their way in the big city, but missed parts of home. “We’re all a part of that border-city culture,” Christian said, “where people would ditch high school and drink across the border.”

It didn’t take long before they were burned out on the life as young architects moving documents around and making no money. So the three of them sublet the apartment, went back to Tijuana and spent four months observing taqueros in Mexico – “we couldn’t touch, only watch” – and collecting family recipes. They went with Christian’s mother’s salsa (tomatoes, Chile de árbol, jalapenos, habaneros, onions, cilantro), tacos from scratch – nothing produced in New York was good enough — and $80k from Kyle’s father for seed money.

“We had zero passion for the restaurant world on its own, and we’re not chefs, but we had an educated palate,” said Christian, who of the three is the only Mexican — his parents grew up in Tijuana.

Their first “stand” opened in the Chelsea Market in 2013—until then they were testing recipes in their apartment in the West Village. The experience is meant to precisely mimic the Mexican taco stand experience, down to the color scheme. That’s why the menu is so simple. In Mexico, if a stand is red and white then they only serve beef, pork and chicken. If you want fish tacos, you have to find a stand that is yellow and blue (“It’s sacred not to combine them.”).

There’s no veggie option at a typical taco stand so to offer that here, they took the typical side dish of cactus and folded it into a taco shell (there’s also the nopal plate, which is catus, beans and cheese). When you order, you choose corn or flour. And you will only get what’s offered in the northern parts of Mexico, for example yellow corn for tacos vs. white, or skirt steak rather than brisket – “It’s a big battle with Mexico City, but this is where the best tacos come from.” There’s three types of guacamole: a chunky version to go with chips, one with lime juice to serve on top of the chicken and beef tacos, and a creamier one made with a little bit of milk to go with the pork. There are also Mexican soft drinks like tamarindo and horchata in glass jars on the counter.

“We are not reinventing the wheel,” Christian said. “The idea is to take a taco shack from Tijuana and with a crane, drop it in Manhattan. That’s what we wanted to bring to New York.”

Los Tacos No. 1
www.lostacos1.com
37 Warren (on the corner of Church)
Monday – Saturday: 11a – 10p
Sunday: 11a to 9p



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