Taco Bite Truck is a Welcome Sight on 38th Street

Finally… truck visits the underappreciated wasteland of the 30s! Even better, a midtown first-timer! As welcoming as I am towards options in this southern tier of midtown, many ML Lunch’ers and contributors have been less than impressed by the steadily-more-frequent visitor, Domo Taco (I for one really liked ‘em back when I was just a wee Lunch’er, so long as you order the right things off their admittedly limited menu). Taco Bite, which made mention of coming to Midtown last month, finally made good on their word today. Alas, though, when Taco Bite and Domo Taco literally square off back-to-back against each other – no, really – is this newcomer’s promise of authenticity and options going to help give the truck better midtown roots? Is Domo Taco still the king of the tortillas (but only if you get the chicken tacos)? Dive in to this Jets vs. Sharks-esque taco-off and let’s take a bite.

You’re not seeing things in that photo – that big blue truck is Taco Bite, the green one beyond it Domo Taco. An unfortunate taco-based scheduling conflict brought these rivals literally right the hell next to each other. The atmosphere on the scene was cool but cordial, though – no weapons were in evidence outside of standard food truck prep implements.

The menu has changed around some in terms of configuration. On offer are chicken, steak, pork carnitas, enchilada pork, al pastor, chorizo, chilpotle tofu, garlic/mushroom/onion, and nodales (grilled cactus for the not-in-the-know such as myself). While I’m not a vegetarian and I tend to be wary of their militant vegan offshoots, I’m all for offering non-meat options. All tacos normally come with onions and cilantro and are topped with “bite sauce” by default, although they’ll replace the sauce with anything you choose from their list. The tacos can be had hard or soft. There’s also burritos that they’ll do with your choice, quesadillas, sides, you name it. It’s a pretty decent offering for a truck, especially with the variety of fillings.

Speaking of sauces, they have eight of ‘em. Sour cream is a sauce now? ‘kay… Also, if you follow their Twitter page you can get a free soda with their password. Not bad – it saves you a buck or two.

Three tacos for $9 is standard, although Domo does three for $8 and I think Big D’s does three for $8 as well, although I really didn’t like their tacos too much.

Here’s what I got: an al pastor with picante rojo sauce, nopales with mango bite, and chorizo with salsa verde. The cilantro and onion were both very finely diced and plentifully sprinkled onto each, and each had a small wedge of lime for squirting. Each had a halfmoon slice of radish too. New to me, but I don’t hate radish. I don’t exactly gravitate towards it either but it’s a free bit of crunch. Not bad.

The tacos had a decent amount of stuff in them for each one – this wasn’t skimping like the Big D’s tacos I had that literally maybe had two chicken strips and a light crumble of beef in another. While a side dish or two-bite appetizer would have been greatly appreciated, I’m still pretty full about an hour after finishing.

Al pastor, up close and personal. If you’re a pineapple freak you’ll be unhappy, it’s mostly there for a kick of sweetness to balance out the pork. I think it was decent, I had a good sized chunk of grilled pineapple in each bite. Probably from a can but at least it was solid.

The al pastor taco is an amazingly constructed thing. The pork was individually flavorful, like it was cut up and spiced before sauteeing/simmering together. Look at how moist that is. No, really, look at it. That sheen is juice. There’s a tiny yielding layer of fat, no more than a millimeter or two, to give a good texture variation in the individual pork bits. It was tangy, it was savory, it was delicious. I’m going to have to look up how to make this at home. The lime squirt did wonderful things to the whole shabang, especially since the rojo sauce was a good low spicy burn. It helped cut it and keep things brightly balanced.

The nopales (aka cactus) was new for me. I’ve had small strips of it before and liked what I had, but this tastes like a step up. It wasn’t mushy, but it was just a bit resistant, almost juicy. It had a pickled tang and a bit of char from the grill which gave way to a nice, low burn of spiciness. I know most Mexican cactus is found in cans, so this’ll merit me taking a trip to the supermarket to buy a can and taste for comparison. If this was fresh cactus, it was very well prepared. If it was premade… it’s tasty, but premade. Also worth noting: Taco Bite knows that all proper soft tacos involve double layered shells to protect against taco-base structural failure. I dinged Domo for this but Taco Bite gets it right. Not only that, they heat them on the grill enough to keep them yielding but not too soft. Note in the lower right how one is tearing but the other keeps things well supported. Tip of the hat to them on that.

I’m a sucker for chorizo – I love it like nothing else. I use smoked paprika when I cook at home in almost every savory dish I make to deepen the flavor a little. Taco Bite’s chorizo doesn’t disappoint. It’s precooked but sauteed on the grill, so it too has a good chunk of char across the tacp. The chorizo taco itself had an avacado-laced salsa verde, too thin to be guac but plenty of avocado to it. I was kinda hoping for a classic tomatillo salsa verde but this is a nice take. It brings the taco together when you take a bite – it has a very deep savoriness from the salsa verde that goes with the tangy smokiness of the chorizo. It yields well to the bite, crumbling away. There’s plenty of juices from the chorizo that came out as well. To be honest, though, after I squirted on some lime, I wasn’t so happy with the limeyness coming into play. It overpowered the very subtle flavor action going on (shoot me if I ever sound this Guy Fieri again).

The aftermath – and the grease. I’m not afraid of getting a little grease in my food (I’m from Jersey, we can deal with it) but there was definitely some juicy grease leakage happening from these tacos. If you’re a pizza-grease-blotter, you’ll probably whine about this as you prance around, uttering excited complaints about how it’s soooo greeaaseeeeeeey! and you struggle for a napkin. If you understand the fact that they gotta squirt something on the grill to sear your food and keep it from sticking, then you won’t give a damn, which is exactly how you should operate – leave the grease-whiners to their grease-whining and use any remaining taco shell to blot up the flavorful goodness therein.

Taco Bite’s authenticity and actual tacos are pretty damn tasty and I’m really hopeful this isn’t their last visit. I’m sure that the cordial accidental scheduling/location situation won’t stop them as cold as the cops have stopped trucks coming around this area (I miss El Guyaquileno and Sunrise Grill that were on 37th until last year) but whatever the case, they’re pretty darn well worth your time and money. Sure, it’s a bit pricey of that money, but thirty seconds on Twitter will save you $2 that you could use for almost a whole other taco, why not. To be honest, this is a place where if you want to get amazing variety, you can get four individual delicious tacos with four unique sauces for $12. I wish they’d bring down the price so I could have gorged myself under the ML limit (and at least have included the carnitas taco) but it’s still not bad. This truck is worth your time and money to at least try, if not frequent.

The + (What the taco bellicose would say):

  • Delicious and authentic tacos on a truck? In MY midtown? It’s more likely than you think!
  • Proper construction and ingredients go a long way towards well made tacos
  • Free soda if you check their Twitter!

The – (What the Domo Taco-contracted mercenaries would say):

  • $3 for a taco with no bulk deal? What is this, the 50s and Park?
  • For three bucks I could get a tin of cactus. This should be fresh!
  • Ewwww, it’s dripping grease!

Taco Bite, southeast corner of 38th and Broadway (check their Twitter for daily locations)

12 Comments

  • First, you misspelled nopales in your menu rundown. You have it as “nodales.”

    Second, I kinda think the word “authentic” needs to be redacted from this post. It’s pretty clear that this author has no idea what is and is not authentic. Evidence numero 1: Never had nopales before; 2: Never seen radish as a taco garnish. This is pretty typical from any standard taqueria. 3: Ordered al pastor from a cart that doesn’t have a roasting spit. Al pastor has more in common with Middle Eastern shawarma (both literally and historically) than your average taco filling. And when properly prepared it should be shaved from a hulking wad of meat that’s been roasting on a vertical spit. The pineapple sits on top and the juices flow down the meat, caramelizing as it descends. This al pastor may have been tasty, but authentic it was not. 3: A commendation for doubling up on their tortillas? Again, this is how it oughta be. Are extra points really merited for doing the bare minimum?

    Take yourself to Corona or Bushwick and experience some real deal authentic Mexican. Or better yet, LA or Mexico City. New Yorkers gotta learn what this stuff is supposed to be about. If you’re gonna claim expertise, know your tacos. Pinche gueros!

    • Spelling error was a mistake on my part – corrected with my thanks for pointing it out.

      I’ll leave the authenticity debate for Taco Bite to prove or disprove of their own merits, but I stand by my claim that it’s authentic – at least more so than a Japanese curry (itself an inauthentic take on a British inauthentic take on Indian curry) taco.

      Edit in response to Daylight (damn these three-layers-deep-only comments): Well put, but without going into sociology and anthropology in sourcing the true meaning of authenticity either by dictionary, vernacular, or academic definition, to me this is authentic. I won’t try to spin in the means of truthiness. I’ll match your respect with my own: would it be kosher to change the wording “authentic in my opinion” wherever I make a claim to Taco Bite’s authenticity? To be honest, I’d much rather that the readers be the judge and give them a shot, but if it comes down to maintaining an ironclad Midtown Lunch journalistic party line vs. correcting what could well be incorrect factuality, I will err on the side of factuality and let Zach or, more importantly, the readers be the judge on the food front.

      Is that fair?

      • User has not uploaded an avatar

        MJP, I know you wrote this post/review with the best intentions, and sorry in advance if I offend you with what I have to say.

        It’s just, when you say something is “authentic” it raises expectations.

        BUT if you say “it’s really delicious and tastes pretty authentic TO ME, given I haven’t had THAT much experience with (insert cuisine), but it’s damn tasty”

        I wouldn’t be offended at all if I didn’t agree. It’s just for some native eaters of a particular type of cuisine, reading what you say is ‘authentic’ when it’s obviously not and more often a dumbed down version of a type of cuisine, it really offends me. Not that you’re trying to be offensive or something, but just telling you this is what it feels like.

        It would be TOTALLY FINE and none of my beeswax if this were your personal blog and your own personal opinion. But you are writing this for Midtown Lunch and for readers who have no prior knowledge of a particular cuisine, you’re essentially giving them the wrong message.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is, IT’S TOTALLY COOL if you haven’t had that much experience with a particular type of cuisine, and it DOES NOT make your opinions any less valuable, but claiming something is “authentic” is something I would do A LOT of research or have a lot of proof to back up my claim, before saying so.

  • Radish slices are quite standard in real tacos.

    But as the guy above says, get the f’ out of Manhattan for really good tacos. Google “queens taco crawl” for good ideas.

  • :-/ I’d rather get a 10-pack of crunchies (crunchy tacos) from the Taco Bell, and some diarrhea at 2AM, you know, to make me feel good like I lost 10 pounds.

  • Stop hating! They are reasonably authentic tacos, at least for nyc. I’ve been to mexico, and eaten off the streets of tiajuana. Tacos de tripetas anyone? Yes the shwarma like comment holds true, but you are just hating to hate. Save the hate for shake shack, grill cheese trucks, and all vegan food. (On principle)…the al pastor is good here. I had it.

    And for you grammar nazis, go teach english to 3rd graders..you are worse than ny post commentators. Get a damn life and focus on the food….

  • Re: Authenticity — Sorry OP. The lines aren’t as blurry as you think. This was on occasion a hotly debated topic during the pre-clusterfuck era of ML Forums.

    I can’t tell from the pictures if the al pastor fillings were cooked in the traditional way but if they were done on a flattop grill from start to finish, then I wouldn’t expect them to have the taste and textures of shaved, vertically spit-roasted meats.

    It is important that restaurants abide by the constraints of our expectations. Medium rare steaks should come out medium rare. Lobster bisque should taste like lobster. Al Pastor should be “al Pastor.” Restaurants should be able to deliver the expected flavor profiles of a dish they are claiming they can make.

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    Ate here today, and thought it was pretty good. The al pastor was pretty tasty, and the chorizo had some nice kick to it. The nopales was pretty interesting, and I’d try it again. It was a little messy, but that was mostly because they were packed pretty full, and I definitely felt like it was a good amount for the price. It did take awhile to get my food which was frustrating – not sure if they were a person down or just aren’t well organized, but it shouldn’t take so long. He did however offer me a free drink when my food was ready, and I appreciated that. Assuming they get things moving a bit more quickly, it’ll be part of my lunch rotation.

  • Finally had a chance to eat here this week, and I was impressed. I tried a quesadilla, which was nicely griddled and surprisingly filling. I asked for their hottest red sauce, expecting the standard Manhattan “a little bit of spice” salsa, but it was hot! Yum. I would definitely go back.

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    I came here today when the truck was parked outside 47th between Park and Madison. I hadn’t read the ML post, and looking at the menu had low expectations. The meats on the menu looked pretty boilerplate (no lengue, oreja, brisket, or exotic sounding meats). Lettuce and tomato was offered as an option on everything. So color me surprised when I bit into a carnitas burrito and noticed a comfortable amount of fatty pieces of pork floating around. I like fatty pieces of pork, but also understand that others may find it a little too unctuous. No foil wrapping (which is fine), but I made it through the whole burrito without spilling anything; the tortilla never got soggy! The sauce was nothing to write home about, but it complmented the meat nicely. For a 7 dollar (cash) burrito in midtown, I’m pretty happy.

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