From the moment you walk into the narrow doorway of Taqueria LES, you know they mean business. Los Angeles decor covers the walls, with Dodgers flags and famous celebrity mug shots lining the bar. LA rules the taco world, and Taqueria knows they need to show respect to the master.
The explicit list of rules on the back of the menu proves they aren’t messing around either. You want nachos? Get out. Fajitas? Go to Chili’s. You want serious grub with homemade tortillas and ridiculous fillings like Beef Tongue? Now we’re talking.
The vibe is totally chill, with the bartender doubling as the waiter rushing around the restaurant sharing his expertise. There’s nothing fancy here, Tacos served on paper plates, plastic baskets filled with complimentary salty chips with an insanely spicy salsa.
Margaritas are made with fresh squeezed lime juice and mezcal, which is a little tart making your lips pucker. Opt for a Mexican beer instead to wash down your meal.
My friend, Joey and I sat at one of the high top tables adjacent to the bar. We immediately ordered guac to pair with the chips, since I quickly admitted the salsa was a little spicy for me.
It’s a much creamier version, at first looking like the store bought kind that comes in plastic bags. But the flavor proves your eyes wrong with hints of cilantro and lime running throughout. It’s simple, no glitz and glam like you see at so many Mexican spots these says. Rustic is never bad.
We decided to split a bunch of tacos, trying the spectrum of ingredients. Lamb, Beef Tongue, Carnitas, and Fish.
Double tortilla is a sign of a true taco spot. Double the carbs, double the taste. All of the tacos lack any fancy ingredients seen so often these days. They don’t try and reinvent the wheel, they just perfect the proteins and place them inside locally sourced tortillas with a simple pico de gallo or cabbage topping with a squeeze of lime.
As I expected, the beef tongue taco was my favorite by far, with the flavorful soft meat enhanced by a simple pico de gallo and a squeeze of lime juice. The barbacoa (lamb) tacos are ridiculous, with the meat slowly cooked for four-hours making the meat juicy and tender.
The fish taco is one of the better ones in the city, lightly fried and topped with a simple cabbage slaw. Slow cooked and pulled pork for the carnitas taco is juicy and flavorful, with all of the fat rendered out of the meat. Once again, simple toppings allow for the integrity of the meat to shine through.
We also ordered chicken floutas, rolled, stuffed and deep fried tortillas.
These were the least exciting of anything we tried at Taqueria LES, with the crispy shell and overload of toppings masking the flavor of the chicken inside. It felt unnecessarily heavy, and slightly greasy straight out of the deep fryer. Skip this in exchange for more tacos or tortas.
Taqueria LES brings to life the Los Angeles taco culture in the heart of downtown Manhattan. If you avoid drinking in excess you can get out of here without a serious dent to your wallet. The tacos are phenomenal with really high quality ingredients acting as the star. Sometimes you forget how good the classics are. And remember, do not attempt to order nachos or fajitas.
Taqueria LES – 198 Orchard Street – New York, NY
Location: Lower East Side
Perfect For: Authentic Dining, Cheap Eats, Impressing Foodies
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Beef Tongue Tacos, Barbacoa Taco, Pesce Taco