This homesick Texan is always on the lookout for a tasty taco…! And while I may miss my home state on occasion (mostly because I miss the Tex-Mex food!), I can tell you that there are plenty of tremendous treats right here in our neighborhoods to choose from. It’s time to head out into the ‘hood to give our small business neighbors some love. Here are a few wonderful establishments to choose from, but far, far from a comprehensive list. That’s why I recommend you take a taco tasting adventure for yourself!
La Palapa Cocina Mexicana at 77 St. Mark’s Place and La Palapa Taco Bar are owned by Barbara Sibley, a chef, artist, and consummate East Villager. Barbara was born and raised in Mexico City, and the menu at La Palapa is based on the family meals she misses most from her Mexican childhood. At La Palapa, the tastes of her childhood are recreated with homemade queso fresco, chorizos, hand ground nixtamal corn tortillas and complex moles, all made the way they would be en su casa. Her interest in indigenous cuisines was deepened by her studies in Anthropology at Barnard College.
Barbara is an exemplary East Village neighbor and we are lucky to have her warmth, hospitality, and generosity here in our neighborhood. As the pandemic reached its worst in New York City, Barbara and a consortium of other restaurateurs banded together to give back to hospital employees and other essential workers. Since the pandemic, she has been delivering meals to healthcare workers as well as food-insecure New Yorkers. In one week, her team, along with World Central Kitchen, Gotham West Market, and Hospitality Workers United managed to serve 2,000 free meals. She has also partnered with Dr. Meryl Rosofsky for a weekly donation to three departments at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Brava Barbara!
The revival of the restaurants in New York City will occur not in one fell swoop, but as a series of small triumphs. One such triumph was the recent reopening of the East Village’s Downtown Bakery, on First Avenue just north of 4th Street (69 1st Avenue).
Its founding date is lost to us now, but during the mid-20th century, Downtown Bakery started out as the type of Italian bakery that was common in the East Village and Lower East Side, hence the name. It made its own breads, buns, and multi-colored cookies. In the early 90s, it was taken over by a family of Mexican immigrants from Puebla, who soon began making tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tortas.
Owned by Olivia Marin and with her brother Manuel Marmolejo, Downtown Bakery was one of the first places in town to offer the yummy breakfast tacos that are ubiquitous in Austin and San Antonio, and breakfast burritos, too, along with some fantastic main courses. So you can imagine that this homesick Texan found her way there muy rápido!!!
But at the height of the pandemic crisis here in New York, Downtown Bakery abruptly closed. Joyfully, the doors have opened once again very recently. The seating in the restaurant, which had amounted to no more than three or four tables, is now an empty space, and right inside the front door, the staff has installed a vestibule, with a small ordering window inset in a clear polyvinyl barrier.
It’s is comforting to know that one of the great dining institutions of the East Village has returned. Even five weeks was too long to go without it. The food is just as scrumptious as it ever was, and absence has made the heart grow fonder. Welcome back to the Marin/Marmolejo family and their miraculous Mexican food!
The Little Taco House
At 246 West 4th, you’ll find a narrow little shop on a leafy stretch of that picturesque street. It was a tailor’s shop for 30 years or more. Then it turned briefly into a bodega that sold Cokes and lottery tickets. Now, it has magically transformed into a taqueria! At the charmingly named Little Taco House, you’ll find just that: Tacos. Plus some very delicious burritos and tortas.
The delicious sauces include chipotle, and homemade chile de arbol. These are among the finest Pueblan tacos in town, and the carnitas are delish. Burritos, quesadillas, nachos, and tortas available with a host of fillings, which include nopales for vegans and vegetarians.
I could go on and on about the many amazing restaurants in our neighborhoods, especially when I am feeling homesick for the flavors of my childhood. But the good news is that it you can venture out (carefully, of course), and try some of the delights for yourself! Be sure to let us know about your neighborhood food adventures!