Tag Archives: tacos

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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Economical in East Harlem: Restaurant San Cristobal

In the thousands of times that I’ve visited New York City in the past, I had never spent time in Harlem. Now that I’m living here, I’ve made it a point to experience all parts of Manhattan.  So, when a friend from home came to visit this past weekend, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to charter new ground. Thus, we journeyed North-East, out of the Mo-Hi bubble, and into Spanish Harlem. While Harlem houses rich culture, it also houses rich food. After walking around a bit, we came across a notable gem: Restaurant San Cristobal, also known as Cafe Ollin.

Restaurant San Cristobal is a small  Mexican restaurant. Walking through their doors was like walking into Mexico. The quaint little restaurant is covered with Mexican-style ornaments and they play traditional music.

The decor was almost as amazing as the food (and their prices). We each  ordered our own tacos and shared one of their famous tortas (a kind of sandwich), all for under $20.

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I had ordered the “chicken taco con todo.” What delighted me most when seeing this dish come out was how green the avocado was. All ingredients were fresh, which was reflected in the quality of the taste.

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This is their traditional “cemita” with breaded steak. It is a sandwich filled with black beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado, oaxaca cheese, and chipotle. The chipotle added the perfect bite to this sandwich, satisfying all taste buds.

So, he next time you’re in the mood for Mexican and are planning on getting Chipotle, consider Restaurant San Cristobal. It’s authentic Mexican food that will probably end up costing you less.

MENU HERE

Los Sabores de Yucatán or: How I was Converted to Love Tacos

I’ve never been a huge fan of tacos. I know, I know. How could I not love tacos? I guess I never really saw the point. But I’ve been converted—I haven’t stopped thinking about the tacos I ate last week.

Tacombi’s website says “Born on the balmy beaches of the Yucatan, Tacombi began selling tacos out of a converted VW bus in Playa del Carmen. Now, comfortably parked in Nueva York, Tacombi on Elizabeth street transports people from the streets of Nolita to the streets of Mexico, offers a piece of the Mexican beachside lifestyle and shares with them the diversity of Mexican street food culture.”

This describes it. It’s a loud, relaxed atmosphere which, if you didn’t know, could be just off the beach somewhere tropical. Prep is done in the back, but the actual tacos are, I believe, cooked in the original truck, pictured below.

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The original food truck still has a place in the restaurant.

I’ve been meaning to go here for a long time—one of the co-owners is the brother of the chef I work for in Boston—but I hadn’t gotten around to it until last week, when, after an art history trip to the Met, a friend and I decided to take the 6 down to Nolita. I didn’t realize the restaurant takes reservations, so when we got there (7:15-ish) we had to wait for about 10 minutes.

But onto the food, because who wants to read about the wait?

Corn equites, lime & chipotle mayo
Corn esquites, lime & chipotle mayo

The corn esquites comes in a cup, with the toppings heaped on top. This is so delicious; sweet, spicy, savory. If you like sweet corn, mayo, cheese, and lime, this is the dish for you. Be sure to mix it up—this is a dish where it helps if all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. Don’t be afraid to ask for more limes if you want them.

Tacos!
Tacos!

The restaurant recommends three tacos, but each comes with two soft taco shells, and diners are instructed to put half of the filling in each—so really, you’re getting six tacos.

From left to right:

Crispy fish: fresh cod tequila battered and topped with cabbage

Close up of the crispy fish.
Close up of the crispy fish.

This is a Tacombi favorite, and rightly so. Fried fish, more of that mayonnaise, and crunchy, (pickled?) cabbage? Squeeze a little lime on it, and maybe some salt, and you’re good to go.

Barbacoa: roasted black angus beef

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I’m not a huge fan of beef, in general, but I am a fan of tender, slow-cooked meat. This is tender and flavorful, and the toppings cut through the richness of the meat.

Pork belly: slow roasted berkshire pork

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Pork belly is my favorite food. This was incredible; again, the tender meat and great toppings. In general, I find that pork belly, despite its buttery, smoky taste, can often be too rich to eat much of. It’s a food that I often find myself needing to sit down after eating. This, however, was rich without being overpowering, filling without being heavy, buttery without being oily.

All in all?

Go to Tacombi. Go hungry, and order the corn esquites for me.

Ambiance
Ambiance

Tacombi at Fonda Nolita:

267 Elizabeth St; (917) 727-0179

Atmosphere: Open, casual, upbeat, young.

Sound Level: Loud.

Recommended Dishes: corn esquites, pork belly taco, crispy fish taco

Price Range: $$

Hours: 11am-12am Sun-Wed, Thurs-Fri 11am-1am, Sat 9am-1am

Reservations: OpenTable

 

City Kitchen

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This week I headed out to one of the newest food markets in the city, the City Kitchen. Located in an annex of the swanky Row NYC hotel right in midtown (44th and 8th Avenue), the food market is easy to get to and is definitely worth checking out if you’re hungry while in Midtown. I was a little hesitant to go at first, but was persuaded by a website featuring beautiful photos of the food the market offers.

Featured brands include Dough’s donuts, Luke’s lobster rolls and Whitman’s burgers. It saves you the trouble of traipsing all over town hunting down these delicious offerings. City Kitchen does you a favor by bringing them all under one roof, for relatively good prices (for midtown) and spacious, free seating.

I started with dessert first, which was Sigmund’s Pretzels. There is variety of flavors on offer, from Classic, to classy Truffle Cheddar, to a savory Feta Olive and a if you’re feeling unsure, an ‘Everything’ flavour that makes sure you don’t miss out. I went for the Churros flavor because I was missing the churros I had in Brazil. A churro pretzel is obviously not the same as a fresh traditional one straight out of the deep fryer but I must say I wasn’t disappointed. The dough was firm and chewy, and if I had a complaint was that it didn’t come with chocolate sauce, but you could buy Nutella on the side for another 50 cents, which might be worth the investment.

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Sigmund’s pretzels.

 

The shrimp ceviche from Gabriela’s Tequeira was delicious. The shrimp was fresh and beautifully laid out amongst the mango and pineapple. The ceviche was not too sour, which can sometimes happen with ceviche, and was therefore cold, fresh and perfect on a warm spring Sunday. I got fish tacos for myself. The serving size was a little small for my liking, but it was well-presented. The fish was fresh and coated with a solid batter that was fried to a golden crisp.

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Shrimp ceviche
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Small but delicious fish tacos.

 

Because I was feeling a little gluttony, I decided I might go for the Whitman burger. The line was longest and in my book that’s often an indicator of quality. I decided on the classic Upstate burger, with added cheese. It was a great burger, with the cheese perfectly melted and the patty juicy and extremely well-seasoned. I suspect that they had a special marinade, because there was a good flavor that permeated the meat. My main complaint was that the bun, which I felt did not have that soft, pillowy texture that I had grown to love and crave, but that could just be me being picky.

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Upstate burger.

 

There were many other stalls in the market, despite its relatively small size. I didn’t have the time (or budget) to try them all, but if I do return (and I most probably will), I will make a beeline for the lobster rolls from Luke’s and possibly the ramen from Kuro Obi. I saw some people get it and that gave me a hard time when trying to decide what to order. Also, if you’re a fan of Dough’s donuts, they’ve got a huge selection at this particular branch, so you just might discover some new flavors you can’t get at other spots.

The City Kitchen is a great concept and I’m glad it’s opened in Midtown. If you’re ever near Times Square and want somewhere with adequate seating, reasonable prices and good food, it’s definitely worth going down to the Row NYC hotel to check City Kitchen out.

 

10 Tacos in 24 Hours

As anyone following me on Tumblr/Facebook/Twitter knows, my boyfriend and I recently went on a quest to try 10 tacos in 24 hours. I’ve never been one to turn down a taco and how better to spend a day than trekking across town, trying all the places on my list? Make no mistake – 10 tacos is a lot, even for someone who easily eats six to nine every week. I am proud to say we were successful and managed to hit up ten different taco spots in Houston in one day.  Here’s how that day went.

9:30 a.m. // 0h00  Tacos Tierra Caliente

We start out the morning at Inversion Coffee, hoping to see Breakfast Burritos Anonymous outside. When the parking lot turns up empty of food trucks, we duck inside Inversion for coffee before heading to my go-to taco spot : Tacos Tierra Caliente to try their new breakfast menu.

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While the stripped down look of their trailer may look suspicious to the uninitiated, Tacos Tierra Caliente consistently serves up some of the best street tacos I’ve ever had. Each breakfast taco consists of eggs and a choice of chorizo, ham, or potatoes. The potatoes were well seasoned and the chorizo wasn’t too greasy or dry. Overall, these are solidly good breakfast tacos with an unbeatable price of only $1 each.

12:45 p.m. // 3h15  Tacos La Bala #2

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Our second stop of the day was going to be TacoKeto, but we were sad to find the truck closed for vacation when we arrived. Instead, we headed out to Tacos La Bala, a spot serving up street tacos similar to the ones at Tacos Tierra Caliente but with the added plus of an air-conditioned building. When I saw chicharrón on the menu, I decided to try it for the first time (at least in taco form). The chicharrón had an orange color, much like that of al pastor, and with a similar sweetness. It had the warmth and gelatinous tenderness of beef tendon, one of my favorite dishes. This is definitely a serious contender for my favorite taco of the day. Mitch got the barbacoa, which I remember as tender and smoky, but a tad less flavorful than the barbacoa at Tacos Tierra Caliente, in my opinion.

1:40 p.m. // 4h10  100% Taquito

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100% Taquito may have been the biggest surprise of the day. With its nondescript, typical strip-mall storefront, I never expected the lively interior that greeted us. The restaurant is decorated like a Mexican street, with fake little storefronts set up along the walls and a vintage Volkswagen Beetle parked in the “streets.” The counter itself is actually a food truck set up inside the restaurant. We ordered Tacos de Tinga, or their “Spicy Chipotle Brisket” tacos. The meat was mildly spicy, with a smokiness reminiscent of ranch style beans, but in a good way. The tacos were light on onions and too heavy on the cilantro in comparison. Overall, 100% Taquito was much better than I expected given its outside appearance, but if you’re looking for authentic street tacos, there are far more actual taco spots in the city that aren’t as blatantly catering to “gringos.” 100% Taquito is like the kitschy cousin of taco trucks that you can bring your suburban parents to (proof being the group of waspy teens in white tennis outfits seated at the table next to us).

2:30 p.m. // 5h00  El Rey Taqueriaimage

With our fourth stop of the day, I can already feel myself starting to slow down. El Rey Taqueria, with its Cuban fare, serves as a nice change in pace from the Mexican street tacos we’ve been eating so far. The Cuban Taco comes with beef fajita and black beans, topped with plantains and sour cream. I’m not a big fan of either black beans or sour cream, so the fact that I enjoy this taco as much as I do is a testament to how good El Rey truly is. The plantains are perfectly ripe, soft and sweet, avoiding the bland starchiness one can often encounter with fried plantains. After finishing up Taco no. 4, Mitch and I took our first break of the day, a visit to the nearby Hiram Butler Gallery.

6:00 p.m. // 8h30  El Taconazo Veracruz

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Our fifth stop was supposed to be at Taqueria La Macro (famous for their trompo), but we found it closed when we arrived – a huge disappointment since al pastor is probably my favorite of all taco meats. So, when we got to El Taconazo, I already had trompo on my mind. The red color of the meat looked just like the char siu (叉燒) of my childhood. Cilantro and onion came on the side, along with a little container of avocado green sauce. The meat was tender, with a taste surprisingly similar to Maggi sauce. The star of the show was definitely the green sauce – that alone made the trip to El Taconazo worth it.

6:50 p.m. // 9h20  The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation

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I’ve lived in Houston all my life but surprisingly this was the first time I had ever been to The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Famous for inventing the green sauce found in Tex-Mex restaurants throughout Houston, Ninfa’s is the definition of an institution. We ordered a Tejas Combo, which came with beef fajitas, a beef taco, and a cheese enchilada. The fajita was perfectly seasoned and smoky, with sweet, caramelized onions. The taco was a hard-shell taco with ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes. The only times I’ve ever had hard-shell tacos were in school cafeterias growing up, so I must admit I was expecting the worst. This, however, was by far the best one I’ve ever had. The ground beef was nothing like the tasteless mush I had before. I might have even enjoyed the taco if not for the five other ones I’d already had that day. For me, a hard-shell, ground beef taco will never be as good as any soft-shell taco, but this was the best one can get. We also ordered a couple aguas frescas (pineapple and watermelon), which were deliciously fruity, although a tad too sweet. While perfect after hours of tacos, they quickly filled us up, leaving us incredibly full.

8:30 p.m. // 11h00  Laredo Taqueria

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By the time we reached Laredo Taqueria, the both of us were pretty full from Ninfa’s. One thing on the menu did catch my eye, however – a nopales cactus taco. Neither of us had ever had cactus before. (At least beyond a prickly pear cactus lemonade). When the taco arrived, our first reactions were of surprise. Although I knew cactus itself is green, my immediate thoughts were of the fruit on prickly pear cactus, so I was oddly expecting something pink. The cactus was cut in strips and similar in color to green beans, although the texture wasn’t nearly as mushy, rather closer to okra. It tasted tart, almost as if it were pickled. The tortilla itself was lined with a layer of refried beans, which helped to tame the sourness. While the nopales was an interesting experience, I can’t help but think my opinion may have been impacted by how full I felt after Ninfa’s. Despite that, the taco was good enough to warrant a second trip to Laredo Taqueria in the near future.

1:15 a.m. // 15h45  Spanish Flowers

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After Laredo Taqueria, Mitch and I headed to Mango’s Cafe to catch the Told Slant/Crying show (shout out to two amazing bands!!) and for a much needed break from tacos. As we left Mango’s fairly late in the night, the number of restaurants still open began to become extremely limited, especially as it was a Wednesday night. Luckily, Spanish Flowers is open 24 hours. The only problem, however, was that Spanish Flowers is a better restaurant for entire fajita platters and similar large dishes. As we were still full, we had to settle for the only taco-related dish that came in a single serving, a beef fajita tostada (but only after a debate as to whether or not a tostada still qualified as a taco). The fried tortilla was covered with a layer of refried beans and the tostada was topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, radish, and avocado. While there was far more lettuce than I would have liked, the beef fajita itself was extremely well seasoned. Given the amount of vegetables, this felt more like a fajita salad than a taco, but the meat itself was very good. I would expect their fajita platters to be far better, as the tostada seemed to be one of the less popular dishes.

2:40 a.m. // 17h10  Taco Bellimage

The night is late and we are extremely full. The tacos are close to winning. With our other late-night spots all closed since it wasn’t the weekend, we decided to throw in the fast-food favorite, Taco Bell. After driving out to the closest Taco Bell, we found the location had closed early – eerie and slightly Twilight Zone-esque with all the lights on and several cars parked outside. Desperate to keep on track on our taco venture, we drove to another location. I hadn’t been to Taco Bell in at least five years and if I was going to eat a trashy taco, I would go all the way. I got the Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco and Mitch ordered a Cheesy Gordita Crunch (my second choice). The actual Doritos Locos Taco itself was a genius idea in my mind. As mentioned earlier, I’m not a fan of hard-shell tacos but I love Doritos so this was the best a hard-shell taco could get. The ground beef itself was average, nowhere near Ninfa’s level. My biggest critique of these tacos would have to be the fact that it’s impossible to get both ground beef and lettuce in one bite. You’d think that decades of taco making would have solved that problem. As for the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, the cheese was far too heavy after a day of non-stop eating. On any other day, I would have loved the soft tortilla and the cheese, but today, it was too much. I finished my taco, enjoying the lettuce and tolerating the beef. Mitch, on the other hand, only made it through 3/4 before calling quits.

8:40 a.m. // 23h10  Breakfast Burritos Anonymous

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23 hours after we began our journey in Inversion’s parking lot, we had come full circle – this time with Breakfast Burritos Anonymous outside. Even after a night of rest, I still hadn’t gained my appetite back. While I could feel my stomach growling a little, my mind repelled the idea. We split a sausage breakfast taco which came with eggs, cheese, and a choice of salsa. The eggs were incredibly fluffy and the salsa was amazing. I don’t know if it was because the end of our taco challenge was finally here or because it was that good, but this was one of the best breakfast tacos I had ever had. The only problem I found with it was that at $2.50 for one taco, this was by far one of the most expensive tacos on our tour. And for that price, I would much rather eat a regular taco than a breakfast one. If you’re ever in the mood for breakfast though, BBA is pretty impressive.

After 24 hours of tacos, I report that a non-stop taco tour of Houston takes its toll on even the greatest of taco lovers. I definitely hit a low with the ground beef in that Taco Bell taco and there was a point when I thought I couldn’t finish the challenge. The sense of victory I felt at BBA, however, made that 2:00 a.m. drive to Taco Bell worth it. Who else can claim to have finished 10 tacos in 24 hours?

Austin

This year, I spent Memorial Day weekend in Austin. It wasn’t quite the same as my usual small town parade and hot dog sort of weekend, but a wonderfully delicious experience all the same. In fact, the trip consisted mostly of eating with the few scattered landmarks thrown in. I saw the capitol building, visited the University of Texas (the things they’ve managed to put longhorns on was truly amazing), and swam (sort of) in Barton Springs. Other than that, my time was spent mostly with a fork in my hand. There was one day I literally ate six meals. It was fabulous.

Austin is known for many things, its music, its growing tech industry, but all I really cared about was Austin’s food trucks. So to Torchy’s we went. We didn’t actually go to the food truck; there was a non-movable location closer. Torchy’s started out as a food truck but, by popular demand, opened actual restaurants. The menu was gigantic; had it not been for the long line I wouldn’t have had time to decide. I ended up getting two tacos, The Democrat, and the fried avocado taco. That Democrat, let me tell you, I never knew shredded beef could taste so good. It was juicy in the way braised meat is, just the right amount of salty, absolutely melt-in-your-mouth awesome with a little bit of freshly squeezed lime juice. Normally I won’t go near a raw onion with a ten-foot pole, but I didn’t pick a single piece out of that taco. There was just a smattering of queso fresco, only a little bit of avocado. Everything was a perfect complement to the MVP of the taco, the beef. So simple, so delicious.

There was a lot of food I tried in Austin: two separate barbeque dinners, an enchilada or two, a snow cone with condensed milk. However, our trip to Qui, named for the head chef and owner Paul Qui, absolutely knocked my socks off like nothing else had. A trendy Filipino restaurant in an up-and-coming neighborhood, Qui was artistic in both its food and interior. We ordered the chef’s tasting menu, the best decision we could have made. We were treated to eight entrées and three desserts. I’m an adventurous eater but there were some things on the menu I wouldn’t have necessarily ordered, for example, beef tongue or gnocchi in a blood sauce. I ended up not being the biggest fan of the tongue but I loved the blood sauce, a bit like a mole but with a meatier, smokier taste. There was a stupidly good ceviche with coconut milk and lemon, a just the right amount of spicy venison tartare served in lettuce cups, and a cuddle fish rice with mushrooms that just about made my taste buds fall out of my mouth. Who knew that cheddar ice cream tasted so good? Or that spare ribs and pickled green papaya are the perfect combination? Apparently Austin does. And I thank you, Austin. I thank you for taking my palate by surprise and giving me a weekend full of memories I will always savor.  

Searching for Tacos in New York City

As a homesick Texan, I must say the thing I miss most is tacos. There is nothing as sad as searching for good Tex-Mex in the north. After eating as many tacos as possible over the winter break, I’m sorry to say I couldn’t last more than a week before my craving returned. Luckily, I found tacos close to Houston standards at Brooklyn Taco Co.

Chilorio Brisket and Chipotle'd Chicken Taco with Honeydew Agua Fresca at Brooklyn Taco Co.

For another Brooklyn take on the Austin breakfast taco, I headed out to Whirlybird for a taco interestingly topped with Jalapeño chips.

Breakfast Taco #1 with Chorizo, topped with Jalapeño Chips from Whirlybird