reviews of tacos!


New York NY (East Village)

143 1st ave (btwn. st marks & 9th st), new york ny 10003
daily 11am-midnight

Agua Verde

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Rating: 79
Price: $$$

On a beautiful fall Wednesday, I had the day off from work. Three things happened to me on my relaxing October 10th:
1. I saw my friend Becky in Tompkins Square Park, and we watched a red-tailed hawk devour a squirrel.
2. I did a lot of research to help prepare my graduate school applications.
3. I ate some tacos at Paquito's.

Unfortunately for Paquito's, this list is in a particular order, and the order is 'level of excitement derived.' Obviously, the 'seeing-friend-and-marveling-at-predatory-bird' combination is extremely difficult to beat; I'd probably trade the experience for Lily's or La Raza, but not much else. Coming in behind grad school studying, though, is not a good sign.

Paquito's was my latest hope for glory in a neighborhood that had disappointed me with San Loco and satisfied me with Zaragosa. Unfortunately, Paquito's was also pricier than either of those two options at $2.99 for the most basic taco (hidden under the 'Appetizer' section of the menu). Paquito gives you 4 taco options: carne asada, pollo, vegetarian (AKA rice and beans) and cactus. I ordered the first 3, saving my cactus fix for a later date. It came out to $9.77, and since I chose to sit at one of their tables I felt the hefty societal obligation to tip, meaning these tacos were above the $2.50 a pop threshold I've laid down as my NYC baseline.

The restaurant itself is split into two halves with two doors. I'm not sure what differentiates them; I think the southern half, which I was in, was more of the to-go and deliveries section with basic fare, and the northern half included a bar and fancier menu options. The decor of the restaurant was nice, and they had daily soup specials that looked delicious. Also they had Halloween decorations up, for which I grant them maximum bonus points - nothing tickles my fancy like celebrating holidays and decor in public places (seriously, I really like it).

Depite only one other customer in the restaurant, the food took a while to come, but was nicely presented when it arrived on a platter. I got a small to-go cup of salsa with my three waxed-paper-wrapped tacos. On its website, Paquito's advertises itself as "a traditional Cal-Mex restaurant", and the tacos were garnished as such. They were overstuffed with pico de gallo, guacamole, lettuce, and a dash of cheese on a double tortilla. The vegetarian burrito features rice and beans in place of meat. Despite my best efforts and extensive experience, I still lost about one-third of each taco out the back end as I tried to eat it, leaving me with a delicious post-taco mash-up of all three varieties.

The carne asada was a seasoned shredded steak in decent size strips. While it was cooked very well - just the right chewiness to let the flavor sink in, but not enough to make it an ordeal to eat - the seasoning was pretty poor. It basically tasted like one of those supermarket spice packets of "taco flavoring" got lightly applied over the top during cooking, rather than a strong or unique marinade. One could make the argument that perhaps Paquito's is the inspiration for supermarket taco-seasoning, but considering the size of the restaurant and the location of traditional spice industry leaders, it seems unlikely. Similarly, the chicken was well-cooked but mellow. The spicing was pretty non-noticeable, and strangely subtle. While I didn't notice the chicken being bland, I certainly couldn't tell you what the spices were like either. The vegetarian taco (I chose black beans; the other option was pinto) was like something out of a surrealist Latin American novel from the 1970s. I'm not sure I can really describe it other than the taste of longing and sorrow. Everyone working there seemed cheerful, clean, and attentive, but I can't help thinking that a few tears of unrequited love got into the rice somehow.

As for the accoutrements, the salsa was presented in a to-go cup. It was a thick, tomato-y red salsa with a small spice quotient that quickly got overwhelmed by rest of the flavors. Also out on the table was the classic red and green El Yucateca combination. The nuclear green complemented the asada fairly well. The tortillas were pretty good, though not spectacular, but they tasted fresh and held together well under the heavy loading. A squeeze of lime would have been nice, especially with the chicken, but perhaps it would have reacted unfavorably with the sadness. Overall, I'd probably keep trekking up to Zaragosa next time I'm in the neighborhood, but I bet Paquito's makes a mean batch of soup on a cold winter day. I reckon I'll be back.

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