Tag Archives: tacos

Los Mariscos

fishtacos

Blogging, like everything else, is a Sisyphean task: for some reason—hint: it’s self-hatred, or maybe ongoing personal growth—I can tolerate only my last six months’ worth of posts. I scroll any further back and I’m cringing at my writing, which means, of course, that in six months’ time, I’ll have found some reason to hate this whole cohort of posts, too. Whatever. I’m just trying to issue a disclaimer before I even think about asking you to read a retro post of mine—from 11 months ago.

The oh-so-retro post in question is this one on Los Tacos No. 1, one of my all-time favorite taquerias. (Actually, it might just be my favorite. It and Taco Mix trade places regularly.) But as much as I’d like to go on and on about Los Tacos, that’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to talk about its seafood-counter cousin, Los Mariscos—fellow Chelsea Market resident, and home of some of the best fish tacos I’ve ever had.

A sign po

Given how much I (and most other reasonable people) hate venturing inside Chelsea Market, I’m always a little hesitant to send people to Los Tacos/Mariscos. But these two places are so goddamn good that I’m going to have to insist you bracket, for a day, your aversion to tourists and get yourself over to that cesspool of congestion, because neither of these places’ tacos are to be missed. And anyway, Los Mariscos isn’t really in Chelsea Market. I mean, it is—but it has its own entrance, its own (totally separate) space, and even its own set of (way-more-reasonable!) hours. If you try hard enough, you can almost convince yourself you’re somewhere else.

The food helps. Los Mariscos offers tacos, ceviches, aguachiles, and a whole lot of drinks. (There’s a bar. It gets loud.) There’s not much else on the menu, so I originally figured Los Mariscos would be more-or-less nut-free—and it is, according to each of the employees I’ve asked. And the folks behind Los Mariscos are actually pretty allergy-aware, too. There are, for example, signs posted on the registers that bear warnings for other allergens—fish and shrimp are stored together, one help-yourself salsa contains peanuts, there’s gluten all over the place, etc.—and the fact that someone even thought to post those signs in the first place goes a long way toward making me feel like I’m at least in semi-competent hands.

Two shrimp tacos from Los Mariscos

Food-wise, this place is undoubtedly as good as Los Tacos, which is just about the highest compliment I can offer. Pictured at the top of this post, the fish tacos—house-made tortillas, pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, salsa, mayo, and, uh, some of the best fried fish I’ve ever had—are actually perfect, and the shrimp tacos (immediately above) are almost as tasty. For real, though, that fried fish is good: reasonably crispy, decidedly fried (but not overly greasy), and…creamy. So creamy. God, how I love creamy fish. (The other toppings are good, too, by the way. I’m usually pretty cabbage-averse, but this cabbage is crucial, texturally—and the whole taco’s plenty citrusy, which keeps it from being sickening.)

The shrimp tacos are essentially the same, and so are essentially just as good, but I can’t say I like the shrimp itself quite as much as I like the fish. (The fish is somehow both subtler and fishier. I don’t know. Also: It’s one chunk, as opposed to a bunch of little pieces of shrimp, which means less breading, which means happier me.) Still, the Los Mariscos shrimp taco is one formidable taco, and I’m sure to order one each time I stop by.

A shrimp ceviche

The ceviches, too, are worthwhile. Again, I prefer the fish (below) to the shrimp (immediately above, in Sam’s hands), but both are rather good. (I haven’t tried the especial, which is made with shrimp, oysters, clams, scallops, and octopus.) I like these, I think, because they offer a clean ending to an otherwise batter-heavy meal. The tacos aren’t offensively heavy, but they’re significantly heavier than your average (batter-free) taco—so ending the meal (or perhaps breaking it up) with a $4 ceviche feels like the right thing to do. Served atop a tostada, and topped with a just a little mayo (it works) and a few slices of avocado, too, this sort of ceviche functions almost as the Los Mariscos version of a palate-cleanser. A fishy, citrusy palate-cleanser, but…you get my point.

Should you, after all that, have any room left in your stomach, consider tacking on some chips and guacamole. (40% of the time, the guac is good. The rest of the time, it’s ridiculously good.) Or maybe not—maybe a drink or two, seeing as I’ve just turned 21 and am now, uh, allowed to acknowledge the existence of booze. Whatever you do, though, don’t miss the built-in freebies: shrimp broth (ask the cashier and you shall receive), and the extra tostadas and individually wrapped saltine crackers that hang out at the center of every table. (Hey. Don’t knock the saltine. Or the hustle, for that matter.)

ceviche

Anyway. I wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommend that you—nut-allergic or not—get yourself over to Los Mariscos. And Los Tacos. Though maybe not back-to-back. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. (I am. Here’s some literature. And here’s an article I really wish were tongue-in-cheek, but that I’m secretly delighted to have found. American maximalism is fucking disgusting. I’m so excited.)

Find Los Mariscos at 409 West 15th Street, between 9th and 10th. Or—if you hate yourself—take a minimum of three deep breaths, enter Chelsea Market, and make your way to Los Tacos No. 1, then turn left (into the blue-and-yellow tunnel) and follow the arrows till you start seeing buoys.

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Taco Mix

A tripe taco from Taco Mix

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.

Tacos al pastor from Taco Mix

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.

A pork ear taco from Taco Mix

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.

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Taqueria Diana

taqueriadiana

I know, I know. This blog is filled with posts about nut-free taquerias; how could I possibly have found another? Well, I actually have an answer: I found Taqueria Diana here, where I ended up after a Google search of “best nachos in NYC.” 30 minutes later—after I’d called and made sure the folks at Taqueria Diana don’t use any nuts in their kitchen—it was time to go.

I went pretty late in the day, and they were out of both carnitas and elote—which, to be honest, had me pretty disappointed—so I got a tray of nachos al pastor and Sam got a burrito (also al pastor). I tried his burrito, and…it was pretty bad. The filling was mostly rice and beans, and when Sam gave up on holding the burrito together and let its contents spill into onto his tray, I couldn’t deny how much what fell out reminded me of a cockroach infestation.

Unnecessarily mean comments aside, the burrito was undeniably mushy and bland, and I probably won’t ever eat another. The nachos, however, were a different animal entirely. (Not literally. Same meat.) For $12, it’s a huge portion—and it’s really good, too. Seriously: I can’t stop ordering them. It’s becoming a problem.

The chips (homemade!) are strong enough to hold the toppings: cheese, beans, guacamole, crema, salsa, jalapeños, carrots, salsa verde, and the meat of your choice. There’s plenty of cheese, always fully melted and well-distributed—and there’s a whole lot of guac, too, which I can’t help but appreciate. The salsa verde isn’t all that flavorful, but there are squirt-bottled salsas of various heat levels all over the restaurant, so the verde’s a non-issue, really. Even the beans are good (and I’m unashamedly anti-bean).

Best of all, these nachos are entirely free from that nasty-ass, movie-theater-tasting slop called “nacho cheese” that everyone and their mother seems to need to drizzle over tortilla chips. (Ugh. Ugh.) They’re missing pico de gallo, too—but I’m willing to accept that as long as nacho cheese stays out of the picture, too.

The pork itself—which is the one meat they never seem to run out of—is pretty dry and boring, but that’s my only real complaint. The earlier I go, the better the meat is—so perhaps it’d actually be good if I could manage to show up around lunchtime. (Or perhaps they won’t be out of carnitas. One can hope, right?) Meat aside, though, these nachos are pretty solid, and I’m grateful to have found them.

Two tacos— from Taqueria Diana

I’ve tried the tacos, too—al pastor and chicken, both pictured immediately above)—and while I prefer those at Los Tacos (and Otto’s, too, on a good day), these definitely aren’t bad. There’s plenty of crema to go around, and I’m a sucker for anything with a bunch of cilantro sprinkled on top, so it wasn’t all that hard for these to keep me chewing. Still, the tortillas were sort of shitty, and both meats fell totally flat. The al pastor was as described above, and the chicken was mushy-soft, in a tuna-fishy sort of way.

Via delivery—and only via delivery, because I can’t seem to ever get out the door before 3pm—I’ve actually been able to get my hands on both the carnitas and the elote. Though everything got a bit soggy in transport, I can still say that I liked the carnitas a whole lot better than the al pastor. On the other hand, the elote fell a bit flat. It had way too much mayo and not nearly enough cheese, and the corn itself was pretty bland—though perhaps it would’ve been better if it hadn’t just traveled a few miles in a tin foil cocoon.

Anyway. I’ve done a fair amount of complaining in this post, but I do like Taqueria Diana. The tacos are good, the nachos are great, and the elote’s all right, I suppose, though it’s not as if I’ll ever crave it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get my hands on their carnitas in-store—or maybe not. Either way, I’ll probably continue to eat at Taqueria Diana. That’s kind of just what I do.

They have three locations: one on 2nd Avenue, between 7th and 8th (129 2nd Ave); one on 6th Avenue, between 17th and 18th (601 6th Ave); and one on the corner of 9th Avenue and 39th Street (524 9th Ave). It’s not McDonald’s, so they’re all a little different. I’ve only been to the 6th Avenue location, but I look forward to trying the others, too.

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Dos Toros Taqueria (or, That Time I Was Really, Really Wrong)

A carnitas bowl from Dos Toros

All right. Let’s say you’re like me, and you’ve eaten at Chipotle too many times in the past month to count, and you’re starting to feel a little ashamed. You still want Chipotle, but shouldn’t you…you know, eat something else? The answer is yes. Yes, you obviously should eat something else. And Dos Toros is your key to doing so—but, you know, without ever having to actually eat anything else.

Dos Toros is remarkably similar to Chipotle, though die-hard fans of either will probably try to convince you that they’re, like, totally different, dude. But the fact remains: they’re both Mexican-ish fast-casual chains that offer customizable burritos (and bowls and tacos, too). And like Chipotle, Dos Toros is pretty much nut-free. According to their online menu: “There are zero nuts in anything at DT. There is however sesame oil in our smokey hot sauce and our salad dressing.”

With regard to potential cross contaminants, a Dos Toros representative told me the following via email: “I just talked to one of the founders and it’s probably not fair to say we ensure that there are no contaminants, but we assume something like onions or peppers is not being grown next to peanuts.” Some may not be satisfied with that answer, but it was enough for me, so to Dos Toros I went.

The first time I went (to the Union Square location, in late February), I ordered a carne asada burrito with rice, corn, cheese, and sour cream—and to be honest, I absolutely hated it. It was soggy and bland, with mushy rice and funky-tasting steak, and I promised myself I’d never return. Come summer, though, I read that a brand new Dos Toros location was having a a Friends and Family event—basically a free food day—in celebration of their June 13th grand opening. If I was ever going to give the place another chance, it had to be then.

Fast forward to Sunday, June 12th. The Dos Toros in question was the chain’s 11th restaurant, located at 52 West 52nd Street, between 5th and 6th. The Puerto Rican Day Parade was in full swing (and only half a block away, at that), and Dos Toros #11 was crowded. Like, snaking-line, no-tables crowded. No surprise there, I guess. There’s a lot of hype surrounding Dos Toros—and who doesn’t love discounted food?

I figured I should switch it up, so when my turn came, I ordered a carnitas burrito with rice, peppers and onions, tomato salsa, corn, verde sauce, guacamole, and sour cream—and, of course, some chips and guac (why not?). As promised, everything was free. And the employees were absurdly friendly. With my last Dos Toros experience still fresh in my mind, I was ready as ever to hate everything about the place—but I couldn’t. Everything was perfect.

dostoros1

I’ll just say it: My burrito was better than anything I’ve ever eaten at Chipotle—including those meals I’ve eaten when Chipotle was at its peak, which it certainly is not anymore. (Have you tasted their steak lately? It’s pretty terrible these days.)

My burrito wasn’t bland. It wasn’t soggy. Nothing tasted funky. All the ingredients were fresh-as-could-be, and the burrito as a whole was flavorful and cohesive, without any of the mushy homogeneity of my first Dos Toros meal. Above all, it was good. Great, even. So: I’m sorry, Dos Toros. I misjudged you.

I maintain, though, that their rice sucks. (I’m sorry. Maybe I suck. But I just don’t like it.) It is mushy and bland—but it definitely isn’t as offensive as I’d originally thought. And while I liked the carnitas better than the carne asada, I must admit that both were pretty boring. But I remain convinced: Overall, Dos Toros is pretty damn good.

Perhaps my first burrito was only so bad because of my own poor choices, made in the interest of saving money and emulating my favorite Chipotle meals. Or perhaps my second burrito was only so good because it was opening week, and all the ingredients were extra fresh (and the employees extra motivated).

Either way, I look forward to finding out just where your average Dos Toros burrito lies on the spectrum between my first and second experiences. And I’ve certainly learned my lesson—there’ll be no more cheaping out on additional ingredients for me.

[Note: Pictured in the two photos above is not a Dos Toros burrito; it’s a carnitas plato that I ate a few days after writing this post. I’d been wanting to try something other than a burrito—and a plato was way easier to photograph, anyway—so I figured I might as well. Forgive me.]

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Los Tacos No. 1

Two carne asada tacos from Los Tacos No. 1

I really didn’t think I needed another taqueria…until I ate at Los Tacos No. 1. I’d read good review after good review, and I’d heard their kitchen was pretty much nut-free, so I felt like I’d be cheating myself if I didn’t at least give the place a chance—and I’m so very glad I did.

This particular taqueria is located in the heart of Chelsea Market, Chelsea’s perpetually overcrowded, tourist-filled shopping mall. I was really hoping I’d hate Los Tacos just so I wouldn’t have to start wanting to make regular trips to such an out-of-the-way hellhole, but I just couldn’t bring myself to form a negative thought about the place. It’s that good.

First things first, though. I didn’t see anything that looked like it’d contain any nuts on the menu, but to be safe, I did send Los Tacos an email. Within a day, I received the following (very brief) reply: “Los Tacos No. 1 is completely safe for anyone with nut allergies.” I would’ve appreciated some more information, but I suppose that was all I really needed to hear. (Still, I’ve categorized them as “technically not nut-free,” as I don’t think they require allergen statements from their vendors, nor do they advertise themselves as a nut-free restaurant.)

When I arrived, the woman who took my order confirmed what I’d been told via email: no nuts in anything. I ended up getting two tacos—one carne asada taco and one adobada (marinated pork)—and both were absolutely delicious. The carne asada (pictured at the top of this post) comes topped with cilantro, onion, salsa, and an avocado-based cream sauce, and overall, it’s pretty damn good. The beef itself is soft and juicy, and the creaminess of the avocado complements the smokiness of the meat wonderfully.

But as good as the carne asada tacos are, I prefer mine with adobada. The pork itself—which comes topped with cilantro, onion, salsa, and pineapple—is always freshly-carved, and though it’s a little spicier than the beef, I love it just as much. The first time I ate at Los Tacos, the pineapple actually caught me off guard; I wasn’t expecting to bite into anything sweet, but goddamn, those slivers were good, especially as a break from the heat of the pork and the salsa. I had trouble getting a decent photo amid all the Chelsea Market hubbub, but this post wouldn’t be complete without some sort of image of my favorite Los Tacos offering, so here’s (evidently) the best I could do:

Two adobada tacos from Los Tacos No. 1

Despite the location, I can’t stay away from Los Tacos—and fortunately, it never disappoints. Their chips and guacamole are absolutely perfect, and the quesadillas aren’t half bad, either. Though it reminds me a little too much of a Taco Bell Chalupa, I particularly like the the pork especial, which is a lot like a fried quesadilla. (It comes with pineapple, so matter how much resemblance it bears to a Chalupa—ugh—I just don’t stand much of a chance against it.)

If it isn’t sufficiently obvious: I really, really, really recommend Los Tacos. These people sell some of this city’s absolute best tacos, and you’ll be doing yourself an enormous disservice if you let the horrors of Chelsea Market scare you off.

Find Los Tacos No. 1 in section B of Chelsea Market, which is located at 75 9th Avenue, between 15th and 16th. (And as a bonus: Los Tacos is a 30-second walk from Eleni’s, one of New York City’s only nut-free bakeries. [Note from the future: Eleni’s no longer has a Chelsea Market storefront.])

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Otto’s Tacos

Two carnitas tacos from Ottos' Tacos

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.

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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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