Last month’s newsletter quiz featured a vintage NYC photograph that was a barely-recognizable image of Chelsea Market. Formerly the Nabisco Building and the birthplace of the Oreo Cookie, The Chelsea Market has undergone many changes in recent decades. It is now one of my favorite spots in the city and houses arguably the best Mexican food in all of Manhattan at Los Tacos No. 1. The place looks a bit like a 1950s burger joint, but its humble appearance belies the absolute deliciousness of the food which was referred to by Zagat writer Kelly Dobkin as “the greatest taco stand in lower Manhattan”. Los Tacos No. 1 was founded by Tyler Sanders, Kyle Cameron, and Christian Pineda, three friends from Brawley, California and Tijuana, Mexico with no formal culinary experience. Realizing that a high-quality taco like the ones they grew up with back in California’s Imperial Valley wasn’t that easy to come by in NYC, the trio decided to export their homegrown and distinctive brand of Cali-Mex cuisine to the Big Apple, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
The cooks at Los Tacos prepare tacos and quesadillas with a variety of savory fillings, and they use only fresh ingredients and vibrant produce. Perhaps most importantly, they use fresh, handmade tortillas, which are light and flavorful.
Tacos, quesadillas, and mulas made-to-order with juicy Carne Asada (Grilled Steak), or Pollo Asado (Grilled Chicken) are all under $5 (with the exception of the “Especial” fried quesadilla, which is $5.25). I usually get a quesadilla or a mula. The chicken and steak are both grilled perfectly and full of flavor.
For the pork taco connoisseur, I recommend the Adobada, which is a sweet and spicy marinated pork that’s been charred to perfection on the grill. Try it with Los Tacos’ verdant pico de gallo. The flavor of the cilantro in their signature smooth guacamole is alive and aromatic, and all of the condiments here pack a fragrant and spicy punch. Make sure to also try a side of bean and roasted chili pepper, which you can get free of charge. As far as vegetarian options go, there isn’t exactly an overabundance but you can go with the Nopal (Grilled Cactus) taco or quesadilla, or keep it simple with an order (or two) of guac and chips, and a horchata, which is a traditional beverage of rice and cinnamon. The horchata is cold and creamy, and the chips are lightly salted, airy, and crisp.
Los Tacos No. 1 recently branched out a bit by opening “El Donkey”, a cash-only breakfast burrito stand near the Chelsea Market waterfall. Open Monday through Friday from 8am -11am, you can get a hearty beef Machaca or chorizo burrito for around 4 bucks.
There are two separate lines to navigate at Los Tacos No. 1 proper, one to pay and one to order, and it can get a bit hectic during the lunch hour, but the wait is more than worth it. This is one of the tastiest and most affordable places to eat in the neighborhood, if not the entire city. It’s the kind of place where you can basically pull all of your loose dollar bills out of your pocket, slap them on the counter (nicely), and end up with a feast. Happy Eating!