Blog: The Midtown Taco Challenge
Wednesday evening, a collection of guests and different restaurants ventured to the 17th floor space of Studio Arte in Midtown West. The goal- to crown the undisputed king of the New York City Midtown Taco Challenge. With tall pours of delicious margaritas and even shots of tasty tequila being doled out to rinse down each hearty helping, the three hour event would offer delectable eats and drinks indicative of Mexican culture, provided by some of Manhattan’s most notable purveyors of the handheld creation.
The evening would donate 10% of the proceeds to the Mexican American Student Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes the advocacy and support of education for the underserved Mexican community. Fortunately, attendees on this night could not have been more excited to taste as well as vote for their very favorite taco of the evening- although choosing just one proved incredibly difficult. Studio Arte’s space is unique and open, providing ample room for guests to parade around the room noshing, or sit casually on one of the couches located smack dab in the center of it all. But around us, the sights and smells of fresh tacos enveloped in fresh flour tortillas was entirely too much to keep us sitting around for long.
Entering the room, we were immediately drawn to the very back of the space where a festive group donning sombreros and moustaches were spicing up the festivities from the get go. Williamsburg Brooklyn’s The Bagel Store brought out the most uniquely prepared ‘tacos’ of the evening as each was sandwiched in freshly made and eye-catching bagels. Dishing out different concoctions from a “Taco Bagel with Pepper Jack and Fresh Cilantro,” “Tex Mex Jalapeno,” “Tequila Lime” and “Bacon, Egg, and Cheddar Cheese,” The Bagel Shop certainly offered the most variety of any tasty taco of the evening. Meanwhile, El Diablito’s “El Diablito Taco” brought out the spice with some freshly cooked jalapeno chorizo, doused with shredded cheese and salsita, for one of the finest overall flavor profiles of the event.
The Taco Shop made the trek over from West 4th Street to dish out made to order versions of their chicken, beef, and pork varieties, topped with fresh cilantro, onion and salsa verde, plated next to a slice of lime for garnishing. We also sought out and found some tasty fish at Mercadito’s table. Their “Tacos Estilo Baja” offered beer battered mahi mahi with a unique Mexican inspired cole slaw and a creamy chipotle aioli. Nearby, the evening’s lengthiest line was reserved for La Esquina, who’s carnitas taco was lacquered in a chimichurri drizzle and seasoned with green onions atop a right off the griddle flour tortilla. Each of these tacos were about three full bites in size, but provided a fantastic differentiation of flavors as the evening progressed.
While we could take the high road and choose to abstain from selecting our favorite- that’s simply not our style. And when we finally made the stop at Choza, we knew we had eaten the evening’s finest creation. With a couple of locations in Manhattan, the restaurant’s signature “Carnitas Taco” was the stand out of the Midtown Taco Challenge. Layered with fresh hunks of Mexican flavored pulled pork and topped with a thinly sliced carrot, onions and cilantro, the double flour tortilla proved essential for keeping all of the flavors together and the taco in tact. Overall, Choza provided a go-out-of-your-way to taste taco, and one that had us coming back for repeat visits.
We ate. We drank. We chatted. All in all, the New York City Midtown Taco Challenge exposed us to some restaurants for the very first time. But even more than that, it somehow increased our previously undying appreciation for the taco- all of which, simply, are not made equal.
- Jane Van Arsdale