Conventional wisdom says the country’s best tacos reside along the West Coast, specifically in southern California. That might ultimately be true, but thanks to New York’s diversity, the East Coast crushes the taco game on a daily basis—with hard- and soft-shell sources that can satisfy even the meanest Taco Tuesday craving any day of the week.
As we know, the sheer diversity of its inhabitants gives New York an absurd advantage in its ability to churn out the world’s best food. It’s a self-evident truth that extends from the skyscrapers of Manhattan through the boroughs and across the length of Long Island. And, yes, this includes the wonderful world of tacos.
From high-end restaurants, to modest storefronts, to the food-truck frenzy, it’s crucial to know exactly where the best tacos are—no matter where you reside in the metropolitan area. In no particular order, here are the absolute must-eat tacos in all five boroughs and Long Island, with three establishments from each region (except Staten Island, which gets two).
Starting the taco journey on Long Island, we make our first stop at I Am Nacho Mama in Hicksville, a storefront taco joint that started its life as a truck in nearby East Meadow. Served on soft-ground corn tortillas, fillings include wood-fired chicken, veggie, shrimp, pork slow-cooked in beer, Portuguese-style steak, salmon, and griddled queso. Then there’s Nelly’s Taqueria, with locations in Hicksville and Farmingdale. Nelly’s boasts 60 varieties from tacos spanning seafood, steak, carnitas (roasted pork), al pastor (rotisserie pork), chorizo, chicken, ground beef, steak, and veggie. Finally, there’s Little Mexico in Westbury, where along with the standard taco offerings, there’s also cactus tacos and Tacos de Lengua—beef tongue tacos!
As our search for tacos heads west into Queens, choosing only three isn’t easy, but we’re willing to try. The first stop is a taco truck in Jackson Heights, the near-legendary Birria-Landia, which you’ll find at Roosevelt Avenue and 78th Street. After being lavished with a New York Times review, rare for a food truck, Birria-Landia gained well-deserved kudos for its Tijuana-style tacos with birria, a rich meat stew, in this case featuring brisket. Don’t forget the meat-laden and buttery-thick consomé for dipping. Next, get off at the last stop on the A train for the seasonal Tacoway Beach, a summer-only taco stand known as much for its atmosphere as it is for its flaky tilapia tacos and tofu tacos. For the last stop in Queens, we’re going to, of all places, a pizza place where Mexican-American owners have infused the flavors of their heritage. Salerno Pizza in Astoria offers nine impressive taco selections, along with a particularly powerful hot sauce.
For our first Brooklyn taco, we’re going to a bakery. Offering Mexican, Dominican, and Salvadoran pastries, Ines Bakery also produces noteworthy tacos, including the chicken tinga taco, drenched in chipotle and adorned with lettuce, onions, cilantro, and a side of jalapeños. Next, we head south to a Coney Island bodega for El Jarochito, where the specialty is the weekend-only barbacoa goat—but if you can only make it during the week, get the griddle guajillo pork or the beef brisket suadero. Finally, head to Downtown Brooklyn on Hoyt Street for the utterly charming Fast & Fresh Burrito Deli, where you can dine al fresco in the tented backyard. Once seated, fold and eat spicy pork tacos, particularly the al pastor version with chili flakes and pineapple, along with tart tomatillo salsa. And if meat isn’t your thing, the vegetarian tacos are more than passable options to get your taco fix.
The Boogie Down Bronx brings some of the city’s greatest tacos, starting with Xochimilco Family Restaurant in the Melrose section of the South Bronx, where the specialty is molotes, or lightly fried tacos made from hand-formed masa. Fill it with cheese, chicken, potatoes or chorizo—and believe it or not, the potato variety is probably the best. Then there’s Jalisco Tacos, on St. Ann’s Avenue in Mott H, a Pueblan taqueria where all of the best taco fillings are available—but they’re also not afraid to delve into offal with pork skin, head cheese, tongue, and even brain tacos. Finally, we head to Parkchester for Taqueria Tlaxcalli for a small Mexican eatery with a robust taco menu that includes braised pork carnitas, goat barbacoa, and a light fish taco—all served with fresh onions and cilantro.
The island that some think of as the “forgotten borough” only has a handful of taquerias to its name—and two of them are worth mentioning. First, there’s the Tompkinsville landmark Taqueria El Gallo Azteca, serving overstuffed tacos where the locals rave about the al pastor, carne enchilada, and braised tongue varieties. Then there’s the unfussy Taqueria Puebla in Staten Island’s Port Richmond neighborhood, where streamed tacos are filled with the standard Mexican fare—like the highly recommended chorizo—but more adventurous tacos like cabeza and goat eyeball (yes, really), are also on the list of must-try tacos.
Finally, it’s time to head into the actual Big Apple, the island of Manhattan—where the rent is too high but the food is still so incredibly good. First, we’re stopping at Taqueria St. Marks Place for a dive bar-looking joint single soft corn tortilla tacos stuffed with 12 kinds of meat, including the aroma-heavy barbacoa and mouth-watering carne asada. Then it's off to Taco Mix in East Harlem, where a twirling visage of pure pork al pastor spins in the window, alluring passersby. By all means, get that al pastor taco, but also consider the tacos filled with flank steak or even pork ears. And finally, our journey ends at El Paso Taqueria on the Upper East Side in Carnegie Hill, where you can relax in a full dining room with some classic tacos like carnitas and al pastor, but also a memorable chipotle-sautéed shrimp taco and a taco creation that features short ribs braised in Negra Modelo beer.