You walk through the streets of a sleepy Mexican village on a Sunday morning, the ground beneath you is a mixture of haphazardly laid cement and dirt. The village begins to gather in their Sunday best for church, the main social event of the week. Once mass is let out the townspeople are flanked with vendors, taking this opportunity to sell their goods to the townspeople: balloons, toys, CDs, crucifixes, clothes, and most importantly, food. The food is of utmost importance—aguas frescas, elotes and of course, tacos.
The tacos deserve special attention: the most authentic tacos are actually incredibly simple, meat on top of a double layer of small tortillas. The double tortillas are essential, as the juices from the meat make the tortillas prone to rip apart, so a second layer of tortillas helps protect from that, as well as making sure you are satiated from the tiny morsel of food. The taco is served plain, however a plethora of condiments and salsas are on a table next to the vendor, allowing you to fully customize.
Dominic Giuliano and his partner Matt Wagman set out to replicate this special subset of Mexican food when they opened their restaurant, Choza Taqueria in Flatiron. Very recently, a second location of Choza Taqueria opened up on nearby MacDougal Street. Although there are in fact a few other places in the area that like to market themselves as traditional Mexican cuisine– Dos Caminos, Empellon Taqueria, and El Toro Blanco– they all miss the mark when it comes to the brilliant simplicity offered by authentic Mexican restaurants. Choza Taqueria, however, with their small but carefully selected menu, is able to capture the feel of a real taco hut, not unlike those found in Mexico or even Southern California for that matter, down to some of the finest details.
Most importantly, the tacos are phenomenal. Each type of taco is filled with a generous portion of meat or vegetables and paired with a unique salsa, carefully selected to complement the flavors of the main ingredient. There is wonderful diversity in the types of tacos offered: carnitas (roasted pork), carne asada (steak), chicken, chorizo and potato, and two vegetarian options: calabacin y hongos, and potato & poblano.
Three tacos come with an order, and you can mix and match so that you get to sample a bunch of fun combinations. While they were all delicious, filling, and provided for a diversity of flavors, I would like to give special attention to the calabacin y hongos. I am a die-hard carnivore, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing a beautifully marbled piece of meat being grilled to perfection. However, in this case I would have to say that the calabacin y hongos were my favorite. This vegetarian option, which can be made vegan if you omit the queso fresco, was delightfully refreshing. The inherent chewiness of the double tortilla was made infinitely more complex with the surprising crunchiness that was still in the zucchini and squash. I recommend adding and the housemade habanero salsa, which pushes your mouth to the breaking point of spiciness but stops just shy of obliterating your taste buds so you can still taste all the nuances of the food.
Other offerings, including hot chocolate made in the traditional Mexican manner with vanilla and cinnamon added, can aid in getting over these winter doldrums. Behemoth burritos, tamales, elotes, studded toastadas, and tortas are served as well. This menu is still a prototype, with daily specials making appearances. What makes Choza Taqueria really special is their attention to detail. From the beautiful space with painted bricks and hardwood floors, unique dual-tier table setup, and gorgeous chandelier made of repurposed jarritos bottles, to the buffet of hot sauces you can use on your food (including Tapatio, Valentina, El Yucatan, and Cholula), the guys behind Choza Taqueria really understand the theory of Mexican food and truly love what they are doing. While complaining about the state of Mexican food in New York City has become a favorite past time for many (especially California transplants), as your face is deep in taco meat, one can’t help but smile and realize that finally, someone got it so, so right.
Image courtesy of Choza Tacqueria