Yeah, yeah, yeah. Another nut-free taco place. This time, it’s Taco Mix in East Harlem—and this time, the tacos are undoubtedly worth a special trip.
I’ve been enamored with tacos al pastor since Los Tacos No. 1 won me over a few months ago. But I hate going Chelsea Market, and as much as I love Los Tacos, I’m sure there’s even better al pastor out there. In an attempt to find some, I did some research (read: I Googled “best al pastor in NYC”), and that’s how I found Taco Mix. I’d never heard of it, but apparently, it’s a neighborhood favorite that serves up some of the city’s best al pastor—so of course, I had to look into it.
I didn’t see anything iffy, nut-wise, on Taco Mix’s menu, so I figured I had pretty good shot at being able to eat what Robert Sietsema had called “the best al pastor taco in town.” Sure enough, it was good news all around when I called: Taco Mix doesn’t use any nuts or nut products in any of their cooking, and they’re open until 5am. And with that, I was on my way.
Google describes Taco Mix as a “snug” and “no-frills,” which is apparently code for “there’s a counter to eat at, but standing room is minimal—oh, and there’s a single table, but it’s always taken, so don’t get your hopes up.” Around dinnertime, it’s always crowded, and I imagine the same is true of lunchtime, too. Everyone moves at full tilt, speaks Spanish, and knows exactly what they want—and you’ll be expected to be in and out pretty quickly, because there’s no room to loiter. (Do I sound like I’m complaining? I’m not. Spoiler: I love this place.)
The first time I went, I tried way too many tacos: al pastor, carnitas, pork ear, beef tripe, beef tongue, and carnitas. (Almost) all were good, but the al pastor (pictured immediately above) was my favorite, by far. The pork, soft and juicy, was on par with that at Los Tacos—a high compliment—and there was plenty of pineapple, which I really appreciated. Plus, the taco wasn’t spicy in the slightest; at Taco Mix, the salsas are do-it-yourself, and I was glad to have 100% control over the heat level of my food. I used plenty of their sorta-hot avocado verde, and with its addition, the al pastor was absolutely perfect.
The carnitas and the tripe were tied for second place, with the tongue coming in third and the pork stomach a distant, distant fourth. The carnitas had a stronger pork flavor than I’ve come to expect, and the crispy bits could’ve been crisper, but it was pretty good nonetheless. (I prefer the carnitas at Otto’s Tacos, but still.) The tripe (pictured at the top of this post) was very crispy—too crispy, even—and so salty that it had me reaching for my drink every few bites, but I didn’t dislike it. In fact, when I smothered it in the avocado verde, it was actually pretty great. (Heads up: There’s very little that doesn’t taste good once it’s been topped with that lovely, lovely salsa.)
The tongue taco was all right, but I couldn’t deny that the meat itself tasted like a mushier, less flavorful version of carne asada. By then, though, I knew the drill: salsa, and lots of it, would probably save the thing—and it did. So I wouldn’t order the tongue again, but it isn’t as if I minded eating it. (Mostly, it made me wish I’d just gotten another al pastor. I’ve since learned, though.)
Unfortunately, the pork ears (pictured below) were beyond saving. I’d never eaten a pork ear before, so I had no standard to which I might’ve compared this taco—it could’ve been incredible, as far as ears go—but I can say with confidence that I hated it. Slimy and gelatinous, the ears were just very unpleasant to have in my mouth, and Sam and I together couldn’t make it through the single taco we’d ordered. Honesty, though, we hardly cared; we had plenty of other (less slimy) tacos to distract us.
Anyway, I should probably stop with the play-by-plays. I really like Taco Mix, though—enough that I don’t even mind making the way-too-many-stops-on-the-6-train trek to 116th street. I like their meats, their tortillas, their salsas (well, the one I can handle), and pretty much everything else I’ve eaten of theirs, too. Even the chimichangas are decent—and chimichangas are one gross creation, if you ask me. And they stock, like, 80% of the Jarritos flavors. What more can I ask for?
Nothing. Taco Mix just doesn’t leave me wanting for anything. My official recommendation is to get your ass up there, order some tacos al pastor (…and maybe a few more things—their menu isn’t small), squirt some salsa on there, and then devour everything on the go.
Seriously: Go. You won’t regret it.
Find Taco Mix at 234 East 116th Street, between 2nd and 3rd.