The constant rumbling coming from the #7 train above us was a sure sign that we were on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. From 69th Street, we saw people who looked and sounded like us, but only a few blocks away was a completely different enclave of Queens. The Tagalog signs changed to Spanish and the music coming from cars and storefronts was turned up a notch. Colombian and Ecuadorian flags were waving with Mexico’s. There were arepas and ceviches to eat, but today, Miss Geolouxy and I were there to search for a good taco.
Queens is the most ethnically diverse county in the nation, where an estimated 44 percent of the more than two million residents are foreign born. The neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Corona had served as a magnet for a lot of newcomers from Colombia, but the 2000 census revealed a demographic shift in the number of Mexicans.
As our basis of comparison, we first stopped by Taqueria Coatzingo on 76th Street because it’s the one restaurant that kept coming up whenever I did a Google search for Mexican restaurants in the area. We noted the taqueria stands we passed by, plus the other Mexican stores across the street. Our plan was to start on 76th Street, walk up to 80th, and then walk back down to 69th.
1. Taqueria Coatzingo, 76-05 Roosevelt Avenue, 718/424.1977
You can see from the photo above what I mean by avocado mush–I’m just not a big fan. We ordered one chorizo and one tripe taco, but they sent over two chorizos to our table. We didn’t mind because it was our first meal of the day and we were hungry. The chorizo was cut into cubes and was salty enough to whet our appetites, but I prefer my chorizo crumbly. A big plus was the blistered green pepper on our plates. (Note to self: return for the tripe taco.)
2. Tacolandia, between 77th and 78th Streets on Roosevelt Avenue
We walked up to the Tacolandia counter and ordered the al pastor and the lengua, or tongue, taco. The tongue looked and tasted like tongue, but now I’m officially confused with what al pastor really is. In Staten Island, al pastor was the meat carved from a vertical rotisserie. What we got was a slab of fat and gelatinous pork skin.
3. El Poblano, 75-13 Roosevelt Avenue, 718/205.2996
We only ordered one cecina taco to go from El Poblanos. The guy at the counter must have thought it weird that we were only ordering one, so he took extra care and put it in a Styrofoam container made for hotdogs. One of the ladies looked at us skeptically when I asked for it to be spicy, but complied. We shared our one taco on a stoop across the street and it tasted like a cecina all right: chewy and dry.
4. Taco stand on the corner of 75th Street and Roosevelt Avenue
The two ladies serving up the tacos were tickled when we asked for their permission to take their photographs. They even had an official translator who sat in the van parked right next to the stand. The beef taco, as Miss Geolouxy said, looked better than it tasted. We couldn’t negotiate the hot sauce to come out of the squeezy bottle, so we doused our taco with the green pepper sauce instead to give it some sort of taste. They had the pickles, too, but they looked pretty gnarly, even for me.
5. Sabor Mexicana stand, directly outside the subway exit on 75th Street and Roosevelt Avenue
For our last taste, we ordered two tacos: a suadero, or stewed beef, and for the safe bet of having something tasty before going home, a chorizo kind. The chorizo was crumbly, which I’ve already mentioned I like, and the tips were toasty and crunchy. The beef was just tasteless and dry, almost inedible even with hot sauce.
After only a couple of tacos, I wondered if we should have gone to Corona for Mexican food. There were a couple of Mexican restaurants and a few stands selling tacos, but it wasn’t like my experience in Staten Island where there was a Mexican-something every other door. There wasn’t an outstanding taco, and the frequency of adding avocado mush surprised me. The avocado wasn’t chunky, but thin; it reminded me of Calexico’s “avocado sauce” in SoHo. After our first taste, I had to remind myself to say, Todo, pero no aguacate.