In a couple of weeks, I’m making a big move and headed to a new apartment for the first time in three years. Since the summer of 2009, I’ve called the Upper East Side of Manhattan home – and what a wonderful three years it has been. But as much as I’ve loved the wider sidewalks, quieter streets, and hop-skip-and-a-run to Central Park of my neighborhood, I’m looking forward to heading downtown for the next phase of my life.
In recent weeks, many a balmy evening or lazy saturday have been spent meandering around the streets of the Lower East Side (namely, Orchard Street), peeking into shops, grabbing a beer at the just-opened Landbrot, or noshing on cheap, delicious eats. If there’s one thing that LES has perfected, it’s the quick, no-frills, ten-dollar meal. From the Meatball Shop on one end of Rivington to Prosperity Dumpling on the other, you can have a satisfying, taste-bud-tingling meal for less than the standard $20 bill, which many New Yorkers have come to consider the new minimum tender. As I’ve become painfully sick of paying $9 for almonds at The Food Emporium, this neighborhood comes as a much-needed breath of fresh air.
And I already have my favorite spot. Ideally located within steps of our new pad, Taqueria Lower East Side was first introduced to me by some friends who have reputations for being excellent Mexican food scouts. I stopped in Taqueria for a quick snack one afternoon – just a simple carnitas taco, setting me back just $2.50. What? Yes. And while my expectations were in line with the price tag, they were quickly flipped on their head – each of the five bites it took to down this shredded pork taco were simply heavenly.
I’ve been back three times since then, and I haven’t even moved to the neighborhood yet. It’s just that good. I also can’t get enough of the cheesy West-Coast-Meets-80’s-Revival decor, or the fact that they play eclectic music while screening 80’s Tom Cruise movies on the flat screens over the bar.
Dinner at sunset on Saturday was spent noshing on Taqueria’s excellent guacamole, which I find to rival both Dos Caminos (my NYC restaurant standard), and my roommate’s guac (personal standard), especially since it is consumed with still-hot freshly made corn tortilla chips. And while at Market Price, usually around $7, it’s one of the pricier menu items, it’s also a hefty portion and sure to satisfy, with a spicy kick to boot.
Other menu favorites include the tacos, obviously. In order starting with the best, my favorite is the bistec (steak), followed by chorizo (hot sausage), carnitas (pork), and fish. But really, they’re all varying shades of excellent.
I also love the Chicken flautas – shredded chicken encased in tightly wrapped, deep-fried corn tortillas, served on a bed of lettuce, green salsa, topped with cheese and drizzled with queso fresca. My better half, on the other hand, prefers the tostadas: a crispy flat corn tortilla topped with (in his case) shredded pork, lettuce, salsa, avocado, cheese and more queso fresca. The only down side is you have to eat it with a fork and knife.
To drink, the touted options include margaritas, house-made sangria, and Mexican beer. While the sangria is good, it’s not great, and a beer is just as authentic and refreshing, while a good bit cheaper. We were less inclined to fill up on drinks, as you quickly fill up on the food here, especially when guacamole is on the table.
Moral of the story? I’m already infatuated with Taqueria, and haven’t even moved on to the quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, or sopas sections of the menu. Chances are high that this will be my new LES eatery of choice, and perhaps a nice change from my go-to pizza joint on the Upper East.
What are your favorite NYC cheap eateries? If you’re not living in NYC, what’s your favorite cheap eats spot in your city?