I’ve lived all over this country but my first home was California. Southern California, specifically. Every time I’ve travelled somewhere new, I’ve always searched for the perfect Mexican restaurant to match that of California. Mexican food is by far my favorite, and I cook it at home frequently, though it never tastes anywhere near as good as that which is found in a restaurant.
My favorite Mexican restaurant—scratch that, my favorite restaurant, period—is Viva Fresh in Burbank, California, closely followed by Bahia Caporales, also in Burbank, and my pursuit of culinary perfection has always been trying to match what I’ve found at these two restaurants.
Germany and Georgia, my next two homes following California, were Mexican food wastelands. New York, though well-known for its culinary offerings, also lacks the specific fare that I prefer. Only twice since I’ve been in New York have I been back to California, and each time I’ve gained a few pounds as the trips are essentially restaurant-hopping with various friends, trying to sate my literal hunger.
The six years I’ve spent in New York, plus the years prior as a California expatriate, is a long time to go without my favorite food, and so I’ve devoted a good amount of time in search for the perfect taco on the East Coast. I’ve tried restaurants, holes-in-the-wall, and food trucks all in this pursuit of, in my opinion, culinary perfection. The most memorable of the awfulness was a food truck in the East Village that included bones and some other unmentionables in the tacos.
Some of the better places I’ve found include a cheap place that delivers to my office (and for the life of me I can’t remember the name) and Surf Taco, the only branch of which I’ve been to is in Manasquan, New Jersey. They both have standout features that I commend but the detractors are large enough that they fall from first place in the tri-state area.
The best place I’ve found is in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. It doesn’t taste like the restaurants in California (or in Mexico, for that matter), but it is darn good and, until I find the opportunity to return to the West Coast, should hold me over in the meantime. It’s called Noche Mexicana and it’s located at 101st St. and Amsterdam Ave.
Noche Mexicana has delicious black beans (their pinto beans are a bit lacking), and the shells for their tacos and tostadas are freshly made. They only give one free small basket of chips instead of the standard unlimited fare, but that’s New York for you. The one oddity that is a turn-off but seems to be found widely in the Northeast is a sprinkling of cheese akin to parmesan that garnishes the dishes. Perhaps it is parmesan. I’ve never asked.
I’m satisfied for now, but it’s just a momentary lull. My search is never complete.