Where to Find NYC's Best Tacos by Type

A deep dive into the fillings, from fresh vegetables to slow-roasted pork
April 29, 2014
by Billy Lyons

The best thing about tacos, besides the fact they cure hunger without having to use utensils, is that they work great with just about everything. From goat to grasshoppers, not to mention every part of a pig imaginable, we've come across some tasty fillers that made picking the perfect pairing exceptionally difficult. Here's a look at the top tacos in each category based on the results of Tacothon 2014, where we went out and doggedly ate 472 tacos in New York City. You can see more results of our tortilla feast here:

Best Fish

Calexico: "Though the juicy fish combined with the slaw and salsa may require a napkin or two, the combination of spices makes this a top taco on an ocean deep line up." Grade: A

El Parador Cafe: "The plump, flaky, super moist and perfectly fried mahi mahi puts other fish tacos to shame." Grade: A

Xixa: "The plantain tortilla gave the achiote-tuna taco a sweet touch that proved this plate wasn't just about presentation." Grade: A

Mercadito: "No bells and whistles needed here, this is an excellent fried fish taco." Grade: A-

Mission Cantina: "One of the better fish tacos around, the crispy skate wing was flaky and perfectly cooked, while the pico de gallo, avocado, and crema complemented everything just right." Grade: A-

Taco Santo: Though slightly on the greasy side, this was a textbook version of a Baja style fish taco. / Grade: A-

Habana Outpost: The fish here is fried perfectly, and the variety of toppings including a smoky salsa make this one taco bursting with flavor - and value. / Grade: A-

Gonzalez y Gonzalez: The combination of salsas like pico de gallo and chipotle cream helps this taco rise above the rest of the pack. / Grade: A-

Tacombi at Fonda Nolita: Though tasty, some may feel that the seared Veracruzana fish taco is designed for those on a diet. / Grade: A-

Best Chicken

El Toro Blanco: "Overall this taco had a great mix of spice and sweetness to it which elevated the chicken to the top of the charts." Grade: A

Xixa: "Tearing apart a whole roast chicken only to place it in a warm tortilla is wickedly fun." Grade: A

Los Feliz: "This is one spicy taco, but if you handle the heat, you're in a for one of the best in the city." Grade: A

Mexico Lindo: "The chicken was moist and flavorful while the hard shell provided a nice crisp, crunchy texture." Grade: A

Pulqueria: "A playful take on an Americanized taco and damn good too." Grade: A-

Barrio Chino: "The tortilla couldn't handle the overwhelming portion of chicken but it tasted great, especially with the avocado salsa." Grade: A-

Tacos Matamoros: "Tasty and fresh, these people know what to do with a dead chicken." Grade: A-

El Paso Taqueria: "You get a lot of meat in just one taco and the onions and avocado sauce help make it tasty too." Grade: A-

Taco Santo: "The chicken was soft and braised, very moist, and packed with flavor." Grade: A-

Best Pork

El Toro Blanco: Al Pastor: "Delicious pork topped with pasilla negro, roasted pineapple & onion, avocado. Pineapple gives it an interesting taste." Grade: A

Salvation Taco: "The meat had an incredible flavor, wasn't at all fatty and had a really good char. The subtle sweetness of the pineapple counter acts the spice for a perfectly layered bite." Grade: A

Pulqueria: "The secret ingredient in the pork? Cinnamon. Innovative, memorable and delicious." Grade: A

El Paso Taqueria: "Perfectly cooked and seasoned, the pineapple added another delicious layer of flavor to the pork." Grade: A

Empellón Cocina: "Drool-worthy meat spiked with a spicy sweet marmalade and crispy chicharrones equals excellence in our book." Grade: A

Zona Rosa: "Braised berkshire pork moved down to Mexico City! The pork was cooked to perfection and made us glad there were three tacos per order." Grade: A-

Maya: "This traditionally prepared shredded pork with pineapple, pico de gallo, lettuce and crema wasn't fancy, but it was darn good." Grade: A-

Cascabel: "The deliciously moist, well-marinated pork butt is complemented perfectly by the crunch of crispy rice and the spicy kick of chili de arbol salsa (plus the cool flavors of pickled onions to control the heat). Each bite is full of texture and flavor, and there's enough meat there to make the two tacos feel like a full meal - especially when you eat them slowly, licking your fingers, trying to make every second last." Grade: A-

La Superior: "The slow cooked pork in banana leaves combined with a very balanced sauce makes this a standout on a line up starring all sorts of intriguing tacos." Grade: A-

Habana Outpost: "With immensely flavorful and juicy pork along with cilantro, onions, and chipotle salsa, this is undoubtedly one of the top tacos here." Grade: A-

Best Beef

Tacos Matamoros: "There's nothing quite like an exquisite piece of beef, and the suadero (flank steak) taco was straight up juicy and delicious. Additionally, for a bite off the beaten path, the cow's head taco brings a unique taste to the palate as well." Grade: A, A-

Maya: "The smoked brisket tacos with chile slaw, pickled onion and avocado on top were one of the BEST. Smoky, melt-in-your-mouth meat that's borderline butter made this extremely flavorful, and the generous portions didn't hurt too." Grade: A

Mission Cantina: "A double decker taco made with corn and flour tortillas plus steak, jowl bacon and chicharron de queso, this taco had so much going on and it was all delicious. Additionally, sliced beef tongue with fried peanuts and beer salsa sounds crazy, but the moist and tender meat with its unique sauce and peanuts turned out amazing." Grade: A, A-

Empellón TAQUERIA: "It was like a food stylist created the perfect version of a skirt steak taco and served it to us. And while not everyone may be a fan of beef tongue, a little heat, an ample serving of meat, and a whole lot of deliciousness made us want to make out with this taco." Grade: A, A

Barrio Chino: "A really juicy, non-fatty cut of steak made this taco top of its class." Grade: A

Calexico: "This beef tacos came in a crunchy shell and the flavorful meat reminds us of the lunch room tacos of childhood. We're glad there's more than one of these places too around town as the well seasoned carne asada gave us a sense we could hunger relief anywhere." Grade: A, A-

Tacombi: "The melt-in-your-mouth beef with a potent picadillo sauce was the best of Tacombi's meat offerings." Grade: A-

El Toro Blanco: "The escuela vieja (seasoned ground beef) was an above average beef taco worth having again, though for some reason this came in a hard shell which didn't do it any favors." Grade: A-

Cascabel: "From the well-seasoned, perfectly tender hanger steak to the crispy shallots and house-made creme, this taco is close to perfect. It's juicy and flavorful, with just the right amount of spice - the kind of finger-lickin' good taco you dream about for days afterwards." Grade: A-

Los Feliz: "The steak barbacoa was an easy dish to love --shredded to the point of softness and not too spicy. Meanwhile, the carne asada is a solid bet with its fresh avocado toppings. Though not for everyone, the ribeye option topped with cream, cheese, and onions is also a guilty pleasure worth exploring now and again." Grade: A-, A-, A-

El Paso Taqueria: "Cooked extremely well and packed with tons of flavor, this is a great taco to snag if you find yourself uptown." Grade: A-

Best Chorizo

El Paso Taqueria: "This was a very good salty treat!  It was very craveable and flavorful." Grade: B+

Casa Enrique: "The chorizo was perfect, not too spicy and juicy enough to leave a stain on the tortilla." Grade: B+

Cocina Economica Mexico: "A little dry compared to other chorizo tacos out there but this is the best taco on this menu."  Grade: B+

Mexican Radio: "Soft chorizo tastes like the ultimate Ortega experience. Totally Americanized, totally delicious." Grade:  B+

Sembrado: "The chorizo was a bit salty but tasted great and the meat was cooked perfectly."  Grade: B

Cascabel: "This is a simple but well-done taco, packed with lots of house made chorizo (just the right amount of spicy, with a little smoky sweetness to it) and topped with cilantro and onions. Nothing too fancy, but hard to put down once you've taken that first bite."  Grade: B

Tacos Matamoros: "A little dry and under seasoned, but still a decent addition for the spicy sausage fan."  Grade: B

Mexican Radio: "The spicy strips of hard chorizo were a little overwhelmed by the fixings." Grade: B

Best Shrimp

Los Feliz: "Shrimp Liked the Asian-fusion thing going on--it came with peanuts and sesame seeds." Grade: A

Gonzalez y Gonzalez: "For a $4 taco, the shrimp here delivered nicely."  Grade: B+

Otto's Tacos: "The spicy serrano crema sauce is the clear winner here." Grade: B+

La Palapa: "Nice and spicy, the pickled peppers provided a nice textural counterpoint to the juicy shrimp."  Grade: B+

Cascabel: "This taco comes actually OVERFLOWING with tasty grilled shrimp, but the rich, spicy sauce - with notes of tomato, garlic and chili - is the real star of this taco. Still, it was hard to eat this without getting your hands and face messy - so we could've done with a little less of it." Grade: B+

Toloache: "It's nice and notable that the shrimp seems fresh instead of the frozen stuff at so many other restaurants."  Grade: B

Best Veggie

Taco Santo: Fried avocado, nopales cactus: "The originality of the super-crispy tempura avocado topped with spicy aioli made each bite amazing, while the cactus option's spice pushed it past a few of the meatier varieties." / Grade: A, A-

Mission Cantina: Stewed squash and queso fundido; Sweet potato with watercress, pepitas and queso cotija. "The calabazas combination is a delicious, light taco with a flavorful, satisfying amount of squash, and the queso fundido lended a rich, salty kick too. No one trick pony, Danny Bowien's joint served up another fantastic vegetarian taco that let the sweetness of the sweet potato shine amidst the crunchy pepitas." Grade: A, A

Tacombi at Fonda Nolita: "Sweet corn and poblano makes this one suh-weet veggie taco." Grade: A

Rosa Mexicano: "A simple but well thought out veggie taco that uses macadamia nut pot chuc - it's the sweetness of the spring peas that has us shouting for more farm to taco!" Grade: A

El Toro Blanco: "This wild mushroom taco symbolized the trifecta of taste: light, fresh, and delicious." Grade: A

Empellón Cocina: "Bonkers fresh Brussels sprouts amped up with toasted almonds makes this of the better veggie tacos in NYC."  Grade: A

Calexico: "When looking for a solid veggie taco, this chain's black bean filler with chipotle "crack" sauce and cotija cheese is a simple hearty option that left us stuffed." Grade: A-

Best of the Rest (Duck, Lamb, Eggs etc.)

Pachanga Patterson: "The moo-shu duck with hoisin sriracha sauce represents the beautiful baby of a harmonious marriage between Asian and Mexican cuisine." Grade: A

Barrio Chino: "Drenched in chile sauce (in a good way) and nicely topped with avocado salsa, the different take on calamari here was a pleasant surprise."  Grade: A

Tacombi at Fonda Nolita: "Served all day, the huevos a la Mexicana are a gigantic, cheap melange of eggs and salsa so good, it should be NYC's go-to hangover cure. There's also a version with chorizo, though we wish they added a little more meat to create a better balance with its other ingredients." Grade: A-, A-

Salvation Taco: Lamb: "Though it may look more like a gyro, it's listed as a taco here, and the intense Indian flavors worked well with the gaminess of the lamb no matter what it's called." Grade: B+

El Paso Taqueria: Octopus: "The variety of flavors like chipotle epazote and garlic accentuated the octopus' taste, though the fact it's not too chewy might be its greatest trait." Grade: B+

Bodega Negra: Soft shell crab: "With big chunks of tasty fried crab, creamy guacamole and chipotle aioli, what's not to love?" Grade: B+

Empellón TAQUERIA: "Not your average taco, the lamb barbacoa is perfect and the unique flavors are for adventurous eaters only. Additionally, though the duck confit was excellent and a nice change of pace, we wondered if it needed to be a taco?"  Grade: B+, B+

Pulqueria: "We tasted good cheese and a subtle heat underneath the lamb merguez, which helped it stand out from other mediocre offerings." Grade: B+

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