Just a few steps from Times Square, Los Tacos No. 1 is not in the most charming location. But inside, the bright space and flavorful tacos make it worth it. At its first larger location (they also have a small cart in Chelsea Market), Los Tacos is the product of three friends from Tijuana, Mexico, and Brawley, California; they decided the east coast deserved good tacos. But they do them in a distinctly New York way, and are arguably the best in the city.
Walk in and quickly scan the menu on the wall to your right. There aren’t a lot of options, so that’s helpful; but nowhere does it say how this all works, which feels very New York to me. But I’m not a New Yorker, so I’m going to explain. Tell your cashier what kind of tacos you want, but don’t worry about the tortillas — yet. Once you have your ticket, you’ll follow the service counter line down to the left and hand it to your taco expert, who will ask what tortillas you want, and with what toppings: guacamole, onion, cilantro, salsa. Then they’ll carve the meat and craft your tacos right before your eyes while you wait, trying not to drool.
We get one of each, as well as the carne asada quesadilla especial. There’s a huge vertical spit roasting meat behind my taco expert, and he deftly adds all the toppings, folding each taco into a neat little cone for easy eating. All of the fillings—adobada pork, steak, chicken, and nopal (cactus), respectively—are piled high in mounds of rice-sized bits. Before you find a spot at one of the standing tables, stop at the salsa station for salsa fresca, spicy, and spicier salsa. And some radishes.
Adobada pork is the clear winner, tender and flavorful and distinct. It’s topped with thinly sliced pineapple — sweet, tangy strips that complement the marinated pork beautifully. A touch of spicy salsa and it’s just about perfect. The tortillas are thin, a touch greasy, and a lot delicious. You really can’t go wrong, but the corn are especially tasty, and allow the meats and salsas to shine through.
The quesadilla feels more like a mini calzone — because, again, New York. It’s fried, but light and flaky like an empanada. All this adds up to a really delicious situation that reminds me of a Mexican version of New York-style pizza. Cheesy, greasy, and really, really good.
The place is packed but the turnaround is impressively efficient, and the standing tables allow you to focus on the food, then get on with your day.