Never have I read more mixed reviews before deciding to take a leap of faith and try April Bloomfield’s Salvation Taco. And to be honest, I left feeling equally confused and somewhat robbed. While the food was overall pretty awesome, and insanely spicy, I don’t know how anyone can come off charging $7 for single taco filled with a lonely piece of fried fish and three slivers of red hot peppers and a dollop of mayo. It’s a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, with some phenomenal, unique dishes and others that make you question why April Bloomfield would put her name on it.
Located in the culinary wasteland of Murray Hill, Salvation Taco finds its home in the budget Pod 39 Hotel. The decor of the restaurant is over the top, with bright Christmas lights, Green & Red stools and shelves filled with somewhat Mexican looking chachkies definitely picked up from a thrift store (which are tactfully glued down to prevent theft). The vibe is really cool, designed to fit in with young crowd that generally flocks to this area of Manhattan. Ping Pong tables are set up in the back (although we couldn’t figure out how to get there), with dim lights and modern music adding to the environment.
We snagged a seat at the bar, ordering drinks while waiting for our table to become available. You can order the full menu at the bar, but our seats were right by the door, sending a gust of chilly wind onto our backs every time someone entered or exited. We made the smart decision of waiting to relocate for the meal. I decided to try a margarita, since after all, it’s a taco spot. There are a lot of other eclectic drinks on the cocktail list, but simplicity is sometimes key.
While not necessarily the best cocktail of my life, this was a damn good margarita. Fresh lime juice and good tequila makes the drink, with the simple heat of the guajillo chili salt clearing your senses if you dare to sip the cocktail without the straw.
A few sips into our drinks, we were lead to one of the high top tables in the bar area of the restaurant. I snagged the bench seat, staring out at the bar area of the restaurant, watching young individuals sip on drinks, while strategically trying to eat tacos in a less-messy fashion.
Our waitress was the anti-thesis of the scene and vibe that Salvation Taco was trying to produce. Steering away from the well dressed, trendy Murray Hill crowd, she instead wore a too-small black camisole with dollar bills sticking out the side of her shirt and an inattentive attitude towards the majority of the patrons. I couldn’t tell if she quickly ran from her day job at a strip club to waitress here. She kept describing every dish as “fabulous” and “delicious” in an extremely vague, almost groupie-like manner. She could hardly remember what we had already ordered, and later on in the meal would re-describe the “amazing” dishes we had just consumed moments before, when we mad the poor mistake of asking for recommendations.
We were left to our devices to select dishes to order, using pure instinct in our decision making. We ultimately started with an order of guacamole, before ordering four different types of tacos.
This guac seriously packed the punch, with a mysterious heat left lingering on your tongue. Thick pieces of avocado and tons of cilantro mellowed out the heat. It was as good of a guacamole, as any, while small in portion size. We ran out of chips rather quickly, and the spacey waitress didn’t offer a refill, leaving our forks as the vehicle to gobble up the rest of the guacamole.
We ordered the non-traditional tacos, which are mainly served on corn tortillas straight from Tortilleria Nixtamal in Queens. I have traveled to the outskirts of Corona for their traditional tacos, so it’s clear that Salvation is getting influence and ingredients from the right place. But the Mexican influence stops there.
Gone are the days of traditional tacos, and once you are able to look past the lacking Mexican flare of these dishes, you will quickly realize that most of these are pretty awesome. The clear winner was the Korean BBQ with beef in a warm, corn tortilla and smothered in a spicy-sweet sauce. Slivers of scallions and sesame seeds top the BBQ taco giving an added layer of crunch to the taco, hitting every high note.
Next favorite was the Moroccan lamb, which cannot be eaten in normal taco fashion. Served on Naan, a traditional Indian flat bread, the pieces of lamb, spiced and roasted before it’s crisped up on the grill, clearly act as the star of the dish. Pickled cucumbers, mint and yogurt are piled high on top, inserting unique Middle Eastern flare into this otherwise Indian dish.
The sweetbread taco still seemed to shine, with the pieces of meat lightly fried to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. The little pieces were topped with a flavorful spicy salsa, which was mellowed out by the addition of pomegranate molasses.
The dish that feel the most short was the fish taco, which seemed to have been made in a completely different kitchen. Very little care was put into the construction of the dish, with a lonely, bland piece of fish and three, small slivers of red pepper trying to insert some semblance of flavor inside the tortilla. A simple dollop of ‘Mayan’ mayo added next to nothing to a dish that needed some kind of burst of flavor.
By the end of sharing four tacos, we felt hardly satisfied enough to call this a meal. We opted to try a dish from a different section menu, trying the Pork Belly and Pineapple Salad (since they had run out of the Al Pastor, the taco version of this dish).
Easily one of the best dishes of the night. Serving pineapple is always risky, so when it’s cooked well, it’s a real treat. Grilled cubed, pieces of slightly warm pineapple is mixed with crisp pork belly and tossed in a spicy, kimchi sauce. Cilantro and mint give a burst of freshness to the dish, making it sweet, spicy, and tangy all at once. This ‘salad,’ if you can even call it that, really pushes the limits of flavor combinations to just the right spot and stops before taking it once ingredient too far.
Most of my complaints with Salvation Taco lie with the pricing ($22 for four, small tacos) and the space-case of a waitress. These factors alone turn me off from looking at this taco joint as an everyday kind of spot, especially since Murray Hill is also quite a schlep for most individuals. What they’re doing at Salvation is definitely something unusual, and maybe April Bloomfield is ahead of our time. Her other other legendary, pork loving restaurants (The Spotted Pig & The Breslin) continuously have never-ending lines out the doors. I don’t consider myself a purest, so it’s not the off the cuff tacos that have me questioning Salvation. In fact, I think it is the unusual tacos that seem to be their only Salvation. Instead, there are some serious, logistical tweaks that need to be fixed. Because for now, I’m not sold.
Salvation Taco – 145 East 39th Street – New York, NY
Location: Murray Hill, NY
Perfect For: Late Night, Quick Bite, Drinks
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Pork Belly & Pineapple Salad, Korean BBQ Taco, Moroccan Lamb Naan, Sweetbread Taco