The NY Times Coffee Place Cart Makes a Great Carnitas Taco
We here at Midtown Lunch love nothing more than good stuff hidden in plain sight. Korean food hidden within a generic deli? Boom. Roaming nameless empanadas? Right on. Really good Indian food in the lobby of a building full of people who complain at how great they have it? Do they ever! But tacos and tortas from an ubiquitous coffee cart? That’s a new one here. A good solid rock-hurling away from the tasty tortas at Rinconcito Mexicano, the Coffee Place Cart outside the New York Times building (40th and 8th) got flagged by Food in Mouth as serving up some good tacos and tortas. But does it measure up to a proper MLification?
Food in Mouth’s photo puts Beer Authority pretty visible in the background, pegging the cart’s location squarely at 40th and 8th on the northeastern corner, across the street from the decent-but-not-amazing Boi Noodles (still one of the few places in Midtown South that’ll even do pho or banh mi) and next to where Wafels & Dinges will bring the truck every now and then (too much then and not enough now, Wafels & Dinges!).
The photos are stock. Prices are on the menu, linked here for your convenience – but $2.50 per taco is darn nice. $5.95 for a burrito? Ohoho.
Four tacos, $2.50 each, no bulk deals, no frills, $10. It took about 10 minutes to prep ‘em up. In that time, something like 5-10 Spanish-speaking guys came up and placed orders varying from a burrito to two plates to five or six individual orders. I was the only non-Latino that came up. This is a good sign.
Each taco is double-tortilla’d for structural integrity. I don’t know if they came from a package or made fresh, but they were warmed on the griddle to great effect. I had a real </3 situation when I looked for a wedge or two of lime and found none, but maybe it’s already in there flavor-wise. Let’s not be too hasty, right?
I started off with the chorizo taco. This piece that fell out was my sample piece, and it was decent. It was just barely smoky and very garlicky, reminding me of a fattier, chunkier kielbasa that had some smoked paprika. There was a decent snap to the skin and it had char on all sides, indicating that it wasn’t just a sausage grilled and then sliced. They get it all.
The taco itself comes together swimmingly. There’s fresh white onion and cilantro under the guacamole, and a little bit of a chunky green hot sauce. It wasn’t too spicy thanks to the guac, but it had a nice warm tingle. The onion was crunchy and the cilantro didn’t overwhelm.
Here’s the steak from the steak taco – which didn’t stake out much of a presence. Sadly, this was the second weakest taco of the bunch, and the gap between the weak and the strong is a real chasm. Unflavored – not even salt and pepper – and too lean, it was overcooked and tough.
There was a lot of steak in the taco, but it was like chewing ropes of hot carbon. Again, all the condiments as above were present, but when Nick’s Place can do a nicely marinated, rare, tasty steak taco, my expectations are high for places that are closer to authentic. If you like red meat, you won’t like this, and if you can’t eat as much red meat as you’d like because of high cholesterol (damn you, genetics, for inflicting that horror on me along with male pattern baldness! :shakefist:)
Steak being second weakest, the chicken taco sadly comes in last place. The usual complaints apply towards white meat chicken, which thankfully wasn’t cooked until dessicatedly dry. It was only just dry. Also, again, no flavor. Good amounts of char from the griddle, but that’s the only redeeming quality of the chicken. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: only Domo Taco has gotten a chicken taco right for use of A) dark meat and B) actual marination.
Look at this chunk of pork carnita. Look at that freakin’ crust. Look at that fat! It tastes like it’s got a good sprinkle of something tart and flavorful before it was roasted. No slow-cooker carnitas that got fork-shredded and broiled to crisp, this is a proper roasted carnita.
On to taco #4, at this point quite happy with the quantity but ready for the onset of the Itis. The taco sealed the deal at this being one hell of a good lunch. The same condiments as the others gave it a good baseline for one massive flavor experiment. The carnitas and the sauce, guac, onions, and cilantro are yielding to the bite, just juicy enough, and have striations of crisp crust to break things up. Hell, they left enough fat there that the roasting of the pork gave it a chicharron-grade crisp outside, thin fat layer, and meatiness. Good Lord, I have to get this recipe.
This is the taco Midtown deserves, and the taco it needs right now. I will readily admit that the basic ingredients are wanting for flavor and texture, and hopefully La Montañita can use a surge of popularity and comments to get a different cut of beef and to marinate it a little better. I realize that white meat chicken is easier to work with but to me, that doesn’t excuse the fact that dark meat is cheaper and yields better results. Plus, c’mon guys, don’t use London broil for your steak.
Those minor bumps are just that: minor. The solution is simply to order the chorizo and carnitas options. Four of these are one hell of a meal and are right at the ML limit. They’re enough to stuff you. They’re properly constructed. They’re from a spot that nobody knew about. No longer need we rely on the capricious nature of the elusive-to-this-part-of-Midtown food trucks! La Montañita is no molehill – give ‘em your taco money.
The + (What the disgruntled former Joey Guacamole types would say):
- Now we’re talking – a permanent presence of good tacos!
- Everything’s cheap as hell.
- Proper carnitas and chorizo – hell yes!
The – (What the loyalists in line at Taco Bite would say):
- You can’t screw up beef or chicken tacos this bad unless you’re Joey Guacamole!
- Where’s the lime?
La Montañita/Coffee Place cart, 40th between 7th and 8th (north side of the block)