Flatiron Lunch: Calexico is Awesome, And It’s Here To Stay
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.
Today may be the last week day of Madison Square Eats, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be at least one food option left in Worth Square after it’s all over. Calexico, the California-style Mexican cart that won a Vendy back in ’08 and got a rave from Andrea a year ago, is sticking around for at least the next year. They’ll be serving from 11am to 9pm every day – and according to one of the staffers, including a beer license, presumably using the same boundaries as have been in place for Madison Square Eats. I’ve stopped in at Calexico a few times since they arrived in Flatiron bounds, see what it’s all about after the jump.
First, as Andrea pointed out, all of the Calexico carts are swamped. A half hour wait is fairly common, which is totally fine in the summer time when I’m in no rush to get back to work, but I imagine will be an issue when it gets cold. What I appreciate about the way they have their ordering system set up is that someone is taking orders all the time along with your name. They tell you with pretty spot on accuracy how soon your food will be ready and you can go wandering off until it’s time to get it. It’s not as convenient as just getting your food right away, but it does make the experience much better. What’s less cool is that there’s only one menu and it’s on the side of the cart – which can be hard to get to through all the people waiting. On my first visit, I had to be ‘that guy’ who didn’t know what to get when it was time to order.
When I did finally get to the menu, it all looked pretty good. I’ll say that I was a little disappointed that the meats available stick to the relatively staid ground beef, carne asada, chipotle pork and grilled chicken. No lengua or cabeza on this menu.
I ended up settling on a carne asada burrito because, if they’re going to claim to be California-style, that ought to be really good. I was a little wary when I found it was loosely wrapped, not like the classic San Francisco burritos that’s wrapped so tightly you just peel back the foil as you eat. Then I bit into it and I forgot all about wrapping styles and exotic fillings.
The carne asada is smokey, firm and chewy. Even better the meat was present in every single bite of the burrito. The cheese had melted a bit giving it a slight quesadilla quality and the rice and sauce all melded into something wonderful. Visit one was a win.
I followed up recently with a visit with a friend. On my recommendation, he tried the carne asada, but in a quesadilla. He loved the seasoning on the steak and from one bite into the cheesy deliciousness, I know exactly what I’m getting next time I’m there.
I tried a couple tacos, starting with the gringo beef, above. The ground beef filling was surprisingly tasty and totally worth sacrificing ‘authenticity’ for.
The chicken and the pork that I followed them up with were also good. The grilled chicken had that same smokey flavor that the beef has from charring on their grill. The pork was topped with a bunch of other somewhat distracting items, including pickled red onions, but the meaty center is what it was all about for me.
In the end, Calexico lives up to the hype. I’d love to be able to say that there’s no reason I’m going to wait half an hour or more for a couple tacos, but honestly, it’s really good and worth it. It’s not like it’s the longest line in the area, being right across from Shake Shack.
Calexico, Worth Square at 24th Street.