Travel hosts come to Brooklyn in search of America’s best tacos

What's the state of Mexican food in NYC? A new TV show finds out.

November 5, 2019 Alex Williamson
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New York City may not be known for its Mexican food, but that didn’t stop two self-described “taco journalists” from scouring the city’s streets for the perfect combination of fluffy tortilla, mouthwatering meat and spicy salsa. 

Mando Rayo and Jarod Neece have embarked on a cross-country journey to find America’s best tacos, and that search has brought them to Brooklyn and Queens, where they shot an upcoming episode of their new show, “United Tacos of America.” 

In the episode, which airs Nov. 5 on the El Rey Network, Rayo and Neece sample the goods at street carts, tortillerias and upscale Mexican eateries around town, and chat with local chefs about the state of Mexican food in a city best known for its pizza and bagels. 

“People are always comparing New York City Mexican food to another place,” Jackson Heights-based cookbook author and home chef Lesley Téllez told the hosts. “It’s not the same scene as it is in L.A.”

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Hosts Mando Rayo (left) and Jarod Neece. Photo courtesy El Rey Network

Although more immigrants have landed in the boroughs from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, bringing their cuisines with them, Mexicans make up about 14 percent of New York City’s Latinx population. The majority hail from Puebla, a south-central Mexican state known for its earthy moles, hand-formed corn-vessels and bodega taquerías serving up tacos placeros.  

Some go as far as dubbing the city “Puebla York” thanks to all that Poblano influence. 

Neece and Rayo made stops at several Puebla-inspired eateries, including Tortilleria Nixtamal on Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, where owner Shauna Page demonstrated her no-frills process for pumping out roughly 60,000 fresh tortillas a day using only three ingredients. 

Nixtamal sells tacos onsite, and supplies tortillas for popular restaurants in Brooklyn and Manhattan like Dos Toros, La Lucha and Chonchos Tacos. 

Page demonstrated the ancient “nixtamal” process, which calls for soaking corn kernels in calcium hydroxide or lime before grinding them into a dough. Nixtamalization removes contaminants and helps the body get vital nutrients from corn. 

“It’s important to understand where the food comes from and, in this case, understanding the nixtamal corn tortilla process that dates back to the Aztec empire,” Rayo said. 

The taco tourists also grabbed grub from street cart vendors and chatted with chef Gustavo Rodriguez over chicken mole at his higher-end Williamsburg spot, Casa Pública.

“There’s a crockpot of all the cultures you can imagine,” Rodriguez said of the restaurant scene in New York. “Everyone’s there, everyone’s cooking authentic cuisine and Mexico is right there with them.”

Catch the New York City episode of “United Tacos of America” on Tues., Nov. 5 on El Rey Network at 10 p.m. The episode will be available on iTunes and Amazon after it airs.

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