Joey Pepperoni’s Tacos: Soft Shell, Soft Launch, Soft Impact

I have to admit, the prospect of pizza and tacos in one place under one food umbrella was not exactly what I thought of as the next big thing. To be honest, I didn’t think it’d be the next small thing either. When I cruised by Joey Pepperoni, still the best $1 slice in Midtown, for their soft-launch of tacos, they weren’t quite ready. Now that I’ve gone back and taken a shot at them myself, I don’t think I was quite ready either.

So we’re working with the swarthy, mustaschioed dude as the mascot? Well, kinda dated in a generic-pizza-box kind of way, but it is what it is. The “om nom nom” has been replaced with “ay-ay-ay” as the tagline. I dunno, it strikes me as way too Mariachi-band-Mexican-restaurant to be taken seriously, let alone utilized without weapons-grade irony.

The menu is fairly promising and expanded upon from our previous spy photos. Package deals abound. The guy who took my order didn’t know how much to charge me until “It’s five-twenty-five, Tigre” came from the food prep space, its source unseen. For $5.25 to do three tacos and a can of soda, I can’t imagine they make too much on the deal. I’d kill to be a fly on the wall when their balance sheets are produced after a month’s worth of taco sales.

It took about four or five minutes for my tacos to be prepped. A good sign, right? They’re freshly assembled, so that’s a plus. No reheating happening here, right?

Served up in tin foil that wasn’t fully closed, my hopes took their first dashing when I saw my archnemesis, iceberg lettuce. Solely a crunch-factor, I’d rather see actual flavorful greens. Nevertheless, these are cheap tacos. It’s unfair to judge them against super gourmet tacos. Korilla shall not be found here.

Nor apparently shall you get quality. I started on the steak taco. The steak itself was warm, cooling down rapidly, leading me to think that this was the delay – a reheat. My first bite of the whole assembly was as unflavored and boring as Taco Bell. If it was marinated or seasoned, it was done so too minimally. At first glance and taste of the steak I’d wondered if they’d slipped me the spongy “lamb” that you get at most indistinct street meat carts. I took a piece out and gave it a once-over. There’s the tiniest amount of char and no evidence of anything done short of cooking it. The only way this could have been done worse is if they boiled the steak to cook it. Zero rareness, and too lean to be anything shy of tenderized London broil.

The chicken fares no better. Hell, it fares worse. The usual white-meat dreck has the same lack of treatment as the steak. No flavor. Maybe some seasoning in the form of salt and pepper but if anything more than this was done to it, they did so on a plane of flavor undetectable by the human palate.

Should I be in a different John Titor-esque world line to try these inoffensive, flavorless chicken tacos? Not even the sour cream and foodservice pre-shredded bland cheddar did anything to help the chicken taco along.

The ground beef taco was the only good part, and I say this because they at least added some flavor. I couldn’t quite scoop out enough to get a good look, but it’s got a low flavor-spice factor to it. I wish I had a hip flask of hot sauce to zap some flavor into this, because just a tiny bit of heat would have turned it from meh to good. The tinge of spice was overshadowed by a thick sauciness that had a mouthfeel way, way too close to commercial taco seasoning packs. Come on, guys, anyone can do better than Ortega if you’re a freaking restaurant. Spare me the gelatinousness of over-cornstarched packet spice mixes.

I’ll be honest, as I hope I always have. This is a “you get what you pay for” experience whose only benefit is filling your stomach. With these tacos and a Diet Pepsi, I’m pretty darn full-feeling. Not stuffed but satisfied enough. You’re paying $5.25 for three tacos and a can of soda. They’re individually wrapped for transport. You aren’t meant to have something even close to authenticity here (Yes, I used the A-word – I may not be a frequent customer of Roosevelt Avenue in Queens and its plethora of taco carts/trucks, but these guys are nowhere NEAR Piaztlan’s 2012 Vendy-award winning real-as-hell tacos). You are meant to have cheap chow, an interesting eyebrow-raising addon to a pizza place. While waiting for my tacos, a significant line was present at all times, and everyone was ordering pizza. I wondered if any of them noticed the taco menu.

After tasting these individual-wrapped examples of mediocrity, wishing they could at least do them as good as Baja Fresh, I couldn’t help but think back to the amazing slices I’ve had and resolving that I’m pretty much done with Joey Pepperoni’s tacos. Sure, they purport a chorizo taco on their other taco menu, and while I’m a huge chorizo fan, it strikes me as if you were going to use LaFrieda beef with American cheese and white bread for a patty melt. You’ve got one great ingredient surrounded by mediocrity, serving as a shameful reminder of how much better it can be. Save your taco cravings for Taco Bite, people. Or if you’re fixated on 39th, Nick’s Place does a steak taco that, while simpler, blows these guys out of the water. It’ll cost you a few bucks more but it’s worth not having to eat these tacos. The pizza, though? Still good. That’s why you should be going to Joey Pep. Joey Guac needs some work over here.

The + (What the pizza/taco hopefuls would say):

  • $5.25 for three tacos?! Sign me up!
  • You want pizza and tacos for lunch and be cheap about it? Now you can!

The – (What anyone who’s been to Baja Fresh, let alone Taco Bite, would say):

  • These tacos have no flavor. Their accompaniments are foodservice at best.
  • The cheapness shows in the ingredients, far too much to enjoy.
  • If there is any doubt about Ortega taco seasoning, then there is no doubt. Marinate and spice ‘em, dammit!

Joey Pepperoni, 1032 6th Ave. (Between 39th and 40th)


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