Flatiron Lunch: El Carrito Rojo Isn’t What I Expected. It Was Better.
Every Friday our man UltraClay goes south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch.
El Carrito Rojo, the Mexican and Ecuadorian food truck on 19th Street and 6th Avenue is right in the middle of the ‘photography district.’ Between the color lab where I get my film developed and all the camera shops nearby, I pass it all the time, and yet somehow I never ended up eating there. Well… after stopping in a few times over the last couple weeks, I know that’s definitely going to change.
The biggest problem is that the there’s no convenient place to sit and eat anything but the occasional taco. There’s a small counter space next to the order window, but with the crowd the truck draws, there isn’t often space to stand there and eat. On a recent trip I sat on a standpipe next to Bed, Bath & Beyond and precariously balanced my meal and my camera on my lap. (Clearly I needed one of these these!) Not my finest moment, I’m sure.
The truck offers a wide selection of foods, Latin, American and otherwise. As far as Latin/Mexican foods go, standard fare like burritos ($7), tacos($2.50) and quesadillas ($5) are offered alongside sopes ($9 for three), sincronizadas ($7) and Churrascos ($10). Beyond that, typical and atypical street snacks joins in on the fun. You can get a gyro ($5) or a cheeseburger ($5) and have anything from rice and beans, french fries or fried rice as sides.
For menu items with fillings you can select the meat of your choice from this list of interesting options. You’ve got the usual chicken, beef and chorizo, but there’s also salted beef, lengua and three types of pork.
This wasn’t necessarily what I’ve been hoping for, but it was pretty damn good. I chose carnitas as my filling and was surprised to get the meat in large chunks instead of the typical shredded variety. There was no chance of this meat getting lost in the shuffle, even though the torta was stuffed to the point of overflowing with salsa, veggies, peppers and all sorts of stuff. Given that this was the meal I ate sitting on the standpipe, it was more likely to get lost all over my shirt. It’s not what I had expected — it was better.
On my next visit, I decided to try out more of the meats available by getting a variety pack of three tacos. The salted beef had a texture like corned beef and a salty flavor that wasn’t overpowering. The meat was firm without being tough, adding a little resistance to each bite without causing a hassle.
The chorizo wasn’t particularly spicy, but it had a salty sweet flavor to it that I really enjoyed.
The al pastor, also not really done in the traditional way, was braised to tenderness and sweetened with pineapple.
I’ve never known a taco truck to sell fried chicken, so I thought I’d give that a try too. At $5 an order for two pieces, rice and beans and a salad, I’d love to say that it’s the sleeper fried chicken hit in Flatiron that will keep me from spending that extra loot at Hill Country Chicken. I’d love to, but it’s just not. It’s ok, but the pieces are small and while it’s not dry, it’s hardly juicy. Really, what I liked the most was the salsa verde they splashed over it all which added a great kick to everything, even the salad.
Overall, the Carrito Rojo truck is great. The Latin offerings alone are enough to keep me busy for a while without having to try out the cheesesteak ($7) or any of that nonsense. I love all the fillings I’ve had and hope to try them packed onto a huarache or a cheesy quesadilla. I’ll just have to get it all in before the weather really cools down because come winter there’s no way I’m sitting on a standpipe in the snow to gobble down a burrito.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I like giant chunks of carnitas more than the shredded version
- They’ve got a great variety of Latin foods that you don’t see too often.
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- There’s no reason to waste time with all the American food. Don’t bother.
- There’s no place nearby to eat outside, so if you’re coming from midtown be prepared to squat on a standpipe next to the homeless folks.
El Carrito Rojo, NE Corner of 19th Street and 6th Avenue.