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Tacos in Morningside Heights

With the new taco emoji, it seemed only fitting that I scout out places to get tacos around campus. My two finds: Taqueria y Fonda and Cascabel Taqueria (both of which are on seamless). Both places have delicious tacos that are quite traditional. You will not find hard shell tacos stuffed with ground beef. As delicious as those tacos are, they are not true to the Mexican specialty. Instead, an authentic taco consists of a double-layered corn or wheat tortilla filled with a variety of fillings: seafood, chicken, pork, or vegetables. Tacos are native to Mexico and predate the arrival of the Europeans to such lands. The word tacos was used by the colonizers, at the time, to describe the indigenous food. Thus, tacos are a lasting part of Mexican history.

My favorite kinds of taco are pastor, pollo, carnitas, and chorizo. Tacos al pastor are filled with thin pork slices marinated in a combination of dried chilies, spices, and pineapple. Traditionally al pastor is cut from a spit, similar to shawarma (a Middle Mastern meat spit, usually made with lamb). It is said that Arab immigrants, especially Lebanese, brought this style of cooking meat to Mexico. Al-pastor meat is usually sweet with a spicy zing to it. Pollo tacos are filled with shredded chicken that can be marinated in a few different ways depending on the chef. Carnita tacos are filled with slow braised pieces of pork in oil. The meat is extremely tender and mildly flavored since it is not usually heavily marinated in spices. Chorizo tacos also do not incorporate many other ingredients. They are only filled with pan-fried pieces of chorizo, which is a spicy pork sausage. The basics of a taco are the same from establishment to establishment; they are just served with different toppings and sauces.

Taqueria y Fonda is a very modest setting with little seating that serves up very simple, no-frills added tacos. All tacos come topped with cilantro, tomatoes, grilled onions, a slice of lime on the side, and a choice of mild green tomatillo sauce or spicy red sauce. The only difference is the filling, of which there is a large variety (vegetarian as well).

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The tacos at Cascabel Taqueria come two or three in a serving and are more individualized than those from Taqueria y Fonda. Each kind of taco comes with its own toppings and a choice between four different sauces varying in levels of spiciness: roasted tomato, tomatillo, Diablo, and habanero. The al pastor taco is topped with grilled pineapple, sautéed onion, and avocado. The pollo taco is marinated in chipotle seasoning and served with avocado and green onion. The carnitas taco is topped with pickled red onion, roasted chili, and crispy rice. The chorizo taco is topped with onion and cilantro. The toppings for the tacos at Cascabel are more tailored to the dish and balance the flavors well, but they are not entirely necessary since, as Taqueria y Fonda proves, every taco is set topped only with cilantro, tomatoes, and grilled onions.

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The tacos at both places are equally delicious. Cascabel is more of a place to go out to since it has a lively atmosphere and plenty of seating. Their tacos are filled with more of a mix of flavors, whereas the tacos at Taqueria y Fonda do not contain a mix of ingredients, but are still very flavorful. There are only two or three tables in the entire restaurant so it is definitely a better option to order out from. These are the two best options for tacos in the vicinity of Morningside Heights, but better finds are sure to be found in Spanish Harlem, which I hope to visit soon.

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