If you have been in New York City for long enough, you already know that Mexican food is not our city’s best thing. As someone from Austin, Texas always looking for the best of New York City, I found that out more quickly than other non-native New Yorkers. Of course, I was easily sidetracked by the abundance of burgers, chinese food and sushi, so it’s not as if my culinary experience was in anyway undone by my fascination for Mexican food.
Still, as a Texan, I tend to get a craving for Mexican or Tex-Mex food from time to time. And I am not talking about the fancy stuff you see on some list from Zagat that includes fu-fu Mexican restaurants like Maya, Crema and Toloache. Don’t get me wrong, those all appear to be great places, and I’d certainly have a date at one of them, but being from Texas, I’m not accustomed to paying $50 for Mexican food. Quite frankly, the best Mexican food I’ve ever had didn’t come from some 5-star restaurant, but from a Mom & Pop place in downtown Austin. So when I crave Mexican food, I’m looking for flavor-filled grilled meats, fresh tomatoes, chalupas, mollete, bowls of cheese and something wrapped up in a tortilla. I’ll let the appropriate people keep the gourmet, five-star stuff for themselves and that Rosa Mexicana place.
Anyway, I have frequented a number of Mexican restaurants and food joints here in New York City. I still have a ways to go in terms of conquering them all, but I have visited enough of them to come up with a decent list of the top 5 places to go for quality Mexican food in New York City. Rest assure, this list will continue to be updated, and you can easily save and record this list at anytime by taking the list from my 4square page below:
In no particular order…
I have actually been going to El Cantinero for over 8 years now. For a small little place in the Village that only its neighbors know about, El Cantinero has to have some pretty damn good food to stick around for this long! When you go to El Cantinero, there is always a special. Whether its $3 margaritas at the upstairs bar/lounge or a free glass of sangria for diners after 10pm, this place will make sure you get a little loose when you’re downing their in-house chips and salsa. I’m not going to go through the menu too much, because it’s all delicious and fairly priced. I will say this though, the chimichangas are to die for, and I almost did die for them on a Monday, when they have their $12 all-you-can-eat special. My walk home wasn’t graceful, but the chimichangas were the best chimichangas you will find anywhere in the city! Also, you can’t go wrong with either the burrito or the fajitas, both of which you will wish you ordered if you see somebody next to you eating them.
If you’re craving some really big helpings of some really good Mexican food, Diablo Royale should be on your list of places to check out. It’s tucked away in the heart of the West Village, but the people who know about it rave about it, and for good reason. First of all, their guacamole is on point–an absolute must for any restaurant on this list. Furthermore, if you ask them, they will mix you up a Tex-Mex special and deliver you the goods: Salsa con Queso–not something you will find at any of those fancy places on the Zagat list. As far as entrees go, you cannot go wrong with the Croque Señor Chimichanga, which has both ham and pork, in case you don’t get enough pig on your fork the first time around. If you’re going for tacos, the carnitas and pollo are hard to beat. Last but not least, this place is open for brunch, so you actually can feel like you’re back in Texas (or maybe even Mexico City) and have yourself some of their awesome Chilaquiles or Mexi Scramble, both of which are worth every penny. Speaking of pennies, this is probably one of the higher-priced places on my list. It still doesn’t even come close to approaching the $53 average plate price tag at Maya, but it comes in at a reasonable $20 or so.
We will stay in the West Village, where there are some really good eats at Agave. Let me start by saying that Agave not only has some of the best Mexican food in the city, but it also has one of the best happy hours in the city. The Margaritas and other drinks are just $5, and Agave now serves $2 tacos and $2 enchiladas, both of which are incredibly tasty and should cause everyone who eats them to go to jail for stealing them at such a low price. Happy hour is so good here, that it’s really the only time I’ve been to Agave. That said, I have stayed long enough to try dinner, and I was quite happy with the Blue Corn Enchiladas that I got. Stick to the happy hour though, because admittedly, Agave doesn’t have a wide range of options on their dinner menu, but they keep the happy hour menu in tune with us commoners. It’s from 4-7pm on the weekdays, and they have an awesome brunch that is just as good and just as dollar efficient.
Dos Toros Taqueria
As a 10+ year New Yorker, I do feel slightly embarrassed placing a chain (albeit a small one) on a list of the best restaurants in New York City. However, Dos Toros is so damn good that I just can’t help myself. I just recently went to Dos Toros as part of my Things to Do in the Summer series, and boy was I pleased. I had the “Platos con carne,” and it was amazing. It was flavorful, but not salty. The rice wasn’t overdone or bland. The salsa and guacamole were about as good as it gets. And I couldn’t help but want some more of the carne, despite the fact that I got more than a quality portion served up to me. If you are looking for good Mexican food on the run, are tired of salty burritos, or just can’t stand Chipotle’s half-marathon lines, find a Dos Toros near you and make it happen, Captain!
When I worked at CBS Sports, I used to get food from Burrito Box at least twice a week. Needless to say, the cheese, meat, tortillas and guacamole weren’t good on my waistline, especially since my job was to be stuck inside of broadcast center all day. However, the extra LBs were worth it! They have these awesome Chicken Ranchero Taco Salads that are so good they make you wanna slap your mamma! I don’t know how they make chicken taste that good, but damned if they didn’t get a lot of money out of me doing so. Also, I found myself going healthy sometimes, getting a burrito with a spinach wrap, no cheese, but extra chicken ranchero. That was an “L” for my waistline as well, but it was a big fat win for my taste buds each and every time. Don’t let Burrito Box’s innocuous facade fool you. It is full of great food, cheap prices and and even free salsa and chips while you wait. They deliver too, making them one of my best delivery food spots in New York City as well.