Last week, my boyfriend Sam and I made another one of our regular trips to Clinton Hill for tacos from Cochinita, one of NYC’s very, very few truly nut-free restaurants. Or it was, at least. When we got off the train, Cochinita’s sign was gone, its windows covered. We were beside ourselves. With Cochinita off the table, we were left with…well, Big Daddy’s and Duke’s (and only Big Daddy’s and Duke’s!) on the list of restaurants that will actually call themselves nut-free. Which is a shame, given that those two are hardly restaurants to begin with.
Perhaps, then, it’s time for me to start looking (harder) into restaurants—not major chains, but small-scale restaurants—that don’t advertise themselves as nut-free, but that happen not to use any nuts in their facilities. Strictly speaking, these sorts of places aren’t ideal (and they’re a bit risky for those whose allergies are very severe, as they can’t guarantee the absence of cross-contaminants), but they’re definitely the next best thing. So I’ve begun my search.
One of the first places I came across was Otto’s Tacos, a SoCal-style taqueria with a few locations around Manhattan. Their menu didn’t mention any nuts, but as those with food allergies know all too well, that doesn’t mean much, so I sent an email to be sure, and unlike the vast majority of the (many, many) restaurants I’ve emailed, Otto’s actually responded—with an email from none other than Otto Cedeno himself: “We have no nuts in our facilities so all your worries should be negated.”
Always great to hear. But since his email was so brief, I figured I ought to press a little further, asking whether he had any information about his vendors’ facilities or the potential for inadvertent cross-contamination. He replied: “There are certain items we buy that come from other facilities. To those, we cannot speak of.” Fair enough—and not too bad, really. Most days, a nut-free kitchen at the restaurant itself is good enough for me.
Otto’s sounded promising, so I hyped myself up and took Sam with me to their East Village location for lunch between classes. To be extra safe, I did call ahead, too, and the woman who picked up reassured (once again…) that there are no nuts in the Otto’s kitchen. When we showed up and approached the counter to order, I realized that it was the cashier with whom I’d spoken—and she seemed to have realized, too, because she was sure to double-check on whether I had any other food allergies.
Sam and I each ordered a carnitas taco (two pictured above above) and a carne asada taco. The pork in the carnitas taco was absolutely delicious—moist, tender, and well-seasoned, if a bit salty—and the taco as a whole was lovely, too. The onions and cilantro tasted fresh, and the tortilla wasn’t dry in the slightest. Plus, the salsa complemented the pork wonderfully. In all, that thing was near-perfect.
The carne asada taco was less perfect, though it wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. There was nothing wrong with it; the salsa was just a bit hotter (but less flavorful), and the steak itself was unimpressive. But it’s not as if it turned us off. It must’ve been all right, at least, because Sam and I ended up deciding that we couldn’t possibly be done yet. So we ordered more: a chicken taco, and a carnitas Gorgon (pictured immediately above—it’s basically an extra-stuffed taco in a deep-fried tortilla, almost like what a Taco Bell Chalupa would be like if it weren’t, you know, abominable).
Anyway. The chicken taco was decent. I preferred it to the carne asada, but I don’t think anything they could have served me would have touched the carnitas. The Gorgon, though…the Gorgon was wild. The deep-fried tortilla was probably my favorite part; it was crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and warm throughout—and it was weirdly creamy, too, which I don’t understand, but which I won’t question. And it was piled high with stuff: lots of pork, salsa, onion, cilantro, guacamole, and serrano cream. I don’t think it’s even possible to take the thing down without a fork. But unruliness notwithstanding, it was straight-up heavenly.
But I ought to stop. Writing this is making me way too hungry, and I can’t quite afford to go back to Otto’s for tonight’s dinner. As if I need to say so, I wholeheartedly recommend this place to anyone who’s (a) in the mood for tacos, or (b) whose heart’s now marred by a hole that only a Cochinita-shaped peg could fill.
Seriously, though. Stop by. Otto’s has three locations: 141 2nd Avenue, between 8th and 9th; 131 7th Avenue South, on the corner 10th street; and 705 9th Avenue, between 48th and 49th. I hear the one on 9th is the biggest, but I can’t confirm. I can say, however, that indoor seating is very limited at the one on 2nd—so go during off-hours, or prepare to sit outside.
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