Cafe Zaiya Takes Asian/Mexican Fusion To Another Level With “Taco Rice”

It’s not unusual to walk into Café Zaiya (41st btw. Mad+5th) and see some new item that seems out of step with the rest of their offerings. In fact, at this point, it seems as if all bets are off. But even expecting the unexpected still couldn’t prepare me for the appearance of Taco Rice!? I don’t know exactly what the madmen behind Zaiya were going for with this one, but I’m always game for a Japanese fast food adventure.

Taco rice is a lot like what you’d probably imagine given its plainly descriptive, yet somehow alluring, name. Just say it out loud a few times. Taco rice… taco rice… it’s got a nice ring to it. The dish is a large mound of rice topped with seasoned ground beef, red onions, chopped lettuce and tomatoes with some grated cheese on top of that (natch). And it comes with little servings of salsa and sour cream. All that for $5.99.

Taco Rice presents something of a lunchtime conundrum though. Like all Zaiya items, your chances of getting it “hot” are nonexistent (warm is the best you can hope for). I couldn’t imagine Taco tice being any good without the meat and rice being hot, but the lettuce is already in there and you don’t want to go microwaving lettuce. Well, I fully intended to remove the lettuce, onions and tomatoes before microwaving, but when I got back to the office and took off the lid, that just seemed like a lot more effort than I could handle. So I just microwaved the whole thing, threw in the salsa and sour cream, and mixed it all together. (Sue me.)

And you know what… it was actually pretty good (despite its appearance). It’s not real Mexican food, obviously- more like mom’s taco night served over white rice. In fact, it tastes exactly like they just use store bought taco seasoning on the meat. Still, the whole thing had a very “taco” taste. The lettuce didn’t lose too much of its composure in the microwave, and I think it actually improved the tomatoes. They were much more flavorful than I’d expected from something like this.

The big surprise was just how much Taco Rice filled me up for just $6 (I ate it in the late afternoon, maybe my stomach had assumed we just weren’t eating lunch – like it doesn’t know any better).

Taco Rice is one of Zaiya’s oddest, most out-of-place offerings yet, but like many of their carb-heavy items, it’s tasty, filling and cheap, and has an odd “comfort food” factor that always leaves me satisfied. I wasn’t sure what to think of Taco Rice at first, but now I think it’s another in Zaiya’s long line of solid lunch options.

Cafe Zaiya, 18 East 41st Street (btw. Mad+5th), 212-779-0600


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