BY JOE DISTEFANO
As the Culinary King of Queens, I’m so very fortunate to live in the most diverse and delicious destination in all of New York City. Really I’m not royalty though, I’m an ambassador, and a hungry one at that. Today, we visit Mexico via Roosevelt Avenue for a tale of three Mexican street foods: two very special taco outfits and a purveyor of the gigantic Mexico City style sandwiches known as tortas.
I have long held that the Mexican street food available late into the night on Roosevelt Avenue — tacos from carts, trucks and even bicycle borne baskets and gigantic tortas served from windows — is the best in New York City, and now I have a professor who teaches “taco literacy” at St. John’s University to back up this oft-disputed claim. His name is Dr. Steven Alvarez and here’s what he has to say about the Mexican food on La Roosie: “Roosevelt Avenue has the best Mexican food in New York City. Basically, the diversity of tacos one can find in New York City are all on Roosevelt.”
Dr. Alvarez who teaches English at SJU and I share a favorite taco truck, the Vendy Award nominated Beefrr-landia — New York City’s only specialist in Tijuana-style beef stew tacos — which opened back in July on the northwest corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 78th Street. As you approach the truck, which bears a picture of a gigantic platter of tacos de birria, or beef stew tacos, a heady aroma of meat and spice beckons. The signature birria taco is filled with a ruddy beef stew scented with cumin, cinnamon, paprika, bay leaves, cloves and a good dose of chilies. For a real treat get a side of consomme — a heady scarlet soup featuring more beef — and dip your taco into it.
“The owners have roots in Jalisco, so birria is also in their blood (so to speak). The menu is not broad, but everything is fantastic.,” Dr. Alvarez said. “I’m glad this truck has arrived, as it has made up for the loss of Taqueria Sinaloense close to 90th and Roosevelt.”
Beefrr-landia starts slinging its Tijuana style tacos at 5 p.m. and keeps it rolling until 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and even later — 3 a.m. — on Friday and Saturday. Another of my favorite late night tacos spots is the unnamed al pastor cart that sets up on the northwest corner of Junction and Roosevelt, in front of PL$ Check Cashing at around 10:30 until the wee hours. It is quite simply the best al pastor — spit roasted pork — I’ve had outside Mexico City. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the flaming inferno that crisps the outer surface of the meat as the taquero carves ruddy morsels of crispy achiote-stained pork onto tiny tortillas from the gigantic rotating cone of stacked pork-shoulder slices. Best of all is the price, four dainty tacos for $5. The taco professor also counts it among his favorites.
Not far from the somewhat elusive al pastor cart find Tortas Neza, a specialist in gigantic Mexico City style sandwiches run by one Galdino “Tortas” Neza out of the front window of Juan Bar at 96-15 Roosevelt Ave. Each of the maestro’s sandwiches is named for a Mexican football club and makes for a hearty meal. The Chivas combines a chorizo omelet, a fistful of quesillo cheese, lettuce and mayo for what I think of as Mexico City’s answer to New York City’s beloved bacon, egg and cheese on a roll. The most over-the-top torta though is the Pumas, named for the owner’s favorite team. It’s as big as my head and features 11 ingredients. In addition to the aforementioned chorizo omelet its layers include deep-fried sausages, a fried chicken cutlet, ham, head cheese, avocado and pickled jalapeños. You might want to bring your own soccer team if you plan to take on the Pumas. In case you’re wondering Tortas Neza is also among Dr. Alvarez’s favorite Mexican street food stands in Queens.
So there you have it. The next time someone says there’s no good Mexican food in New York City, take them to La Roosie and give them a lesson in taco literacy.
Address: Northwest corner of Roosevelt Avenue & 78st, Jackson Heights
Phone: (347) 283-2162
96-15 Roosevelt Ave., Corona
Address: Northwest corner of Junction and Roosevelt