Best Mex on Lex: The Upper East Side’s New Top Taco

The Upper East Side has a new top taco, and it’s being served at The Burger One on Lexington between 79th and 80th. Hot, fresh and cheap carnitas, chicken and beef numbers are made to order with just the right blend of blistering green salsa, biting chopped onion and cooling cilantro.  Half-wrapped in foil, they are astoundingly portable:  I can eat two before I get to my stop at 77th and Lex and rarely spill more than a squirt’s worth of salsa on my Mountain Khakis.  That said, these tasty tacos are even better at the counter.  

When time permits and I can’t afford to Pollock another pair of pants, I grab a stool, watch a little Telemundo and listen to the cooks and countermen wrangle the exuberant stream of customers, most of whom are blue collar and almost all of whom are more comfortable conversing in Sunnyside Spanish than Quogue English.  Taking a seat also gives me time to enjoy the great selection of Mexican beverages recently added to the menu, including Cane Sugar Cokes—no ethanol corn syrup American variety here—Jarritos fruit sodas and various house made Aguas Frescas. 

After a year of steady visits, I can safely say this place isn’t going away any time soon. The once tentative and tiny taquería inside an old burger shop is now a full fledged Mexican lunch counter with a precise regional perspective.  It knows what it can do well and it does it.  Cooks happy to serve their own cuisine and clients happy to eat it have revitalized and repurposed a once stolid neighborhood restaurant and added a little pep to a still stolid neighborhood.  I can only hope that this transformation is the start of a major trend in the area.  Most every kitchen on the UES speaks Spanish; it’s about time some of the food did too.    

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10 Responses to “Best Mex on Lex: The Upper East Side’s New Top Taco”

  1. Larry M. Says:

    I’ll have to stop by. I’m tired of lousy souvlaki and ridiculous prices at the Madison diners. Given that the cooks at Viand and Nectar are also mainly Latin American, I wonder when they’ll start offering some food from back home. With phone book sized menus, there’s certainly room to squeeze a few dishes in!

  2. Mary G. Says:

    I saw you wrote on this topic a while back on Chowhound. Glad to see you’ve finally put it on your own site. I hope this report means you’re back to a more regular posting schedule.

  3. Yorkville Slurper Says:

    Not exactly tumefactive, but a good taco none the less. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Yorkville Slurper Says:

    To continue my previous comment. I think there is a sort of taco asymptote beyond which the taco experience can’t go any further. Eating a hot taco when I’m hungry is like drinking good cold water when thirsty: it satisifies a short term need brilliantly but doesn’t leave me with much to think about afterwards. That said, I’m often hungry, enjoy instant gratification and consequently am pleased by the addition to local my dining lineup. Now if they had a bigger and better salsa lineup I might have to revise my comments about the asymptote. A good chile de arbol Guadalajara style salsa is a wonder to behold.

  5. FaHFS Says:

    I am well aware of the many fine tacos above 96th street on Lex. My focus here is on the UES, which remains a bit of a wasteland when it comes to Mexican food, and in fact, when it comes to any reasonably priced non-chain food.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Hear, hear. Glad to see some serious and seriously cheap eats come to a neighborhood long on prices and short on quality.

  7. FaHFS Says:

    So New York Magazine is talking up Patty’s Tacos, which reportedly has a truck at 86th & Lex. If it’s a regular presence, then there may be a new top taco on western frontier of the UES (East of Lex is Yorkville, of course). I’ll stop by this week and report back. Viva la revolucion taquera!

  8. A New Stop on the Taco Trail: Paty’s Tacos at 86th and Lex « Fat and Happy Food Slut Says:

    […] Fat and Happy Food Slut A foodie’s guide to total joy « Best Mex on Lex: The Upper East Side’s New Top Taco […]

  9. tigerdog Says:

    Burger One has added new signage out front highlighting burgers, tacos and burritos. What had once been an add on to the menu is now the principal come on to customers. Fortunately, the tacos are still delivering.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Now that your mention it, in the last week I’ve passed two diners on the UES and a several more in Sunnyside and Woodside that looked to be Greek or Italian in origin. All are now advertising Latin American specials on the boards out front or on cardboard posters stuck in the window. I guess the owners have decided to let the chef’s specials be food that actually is special for the chef.

    It seems like this trend is not local by any means. I guess if a diner can serve corned beef and veal parmigiana at the same time, it can certainly add a taco, arepa or ceviche or two, especially when the cooks grew up with the food. This trend you’ve spotted is definitely not local. Let’s hope it keeps up!

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