Empellón Taqueria

Situated on the corner of West 10th Street and the ever-confusing West 4th Street (why, exactly, does it run diagonal across other numbered streets?), Empellón Taqueria is a kind of Mexican cuisine oasis. Once you step inside, you’re transported to another place—one where graffiti on the wall behind the bar is the norm and the list of margaritas stretches on and on.

queso fundido at empellon taqueria

queso fundido

Don’t be fooled—Empellón Taqueria is a true taqueria, meaning that they primarily serve (and specialize in) tacos. You won’t find your overstuffed burrito or simpleton’s quesadilla here. Go somewhere else, like Chipotle, if this is what you seek.

My Lady Dining Partner (MLDP) and I began our meal with a box of tortilla chips and one of the salsas (tomatillo-chipotle). The salsa can only be described as smokey, and its consistent composition delighted and surprised me. Many salsas have chunks of vegetables mixed throughout, whereas Empellón Taqueria’s rendition (at least the one I had) was a smooth, thick sauce. MLDP ordered the classic margarita, which was tangy, and I got a standard Negra Modelo.

chicken tacos at empellon taqueria

chicken tacos

We moved on to the next must-have at this spot: queso fundido. For the uninitiated, queso fundido is a wonderful creation: a small, cast-iron pan is filled with melted Chihuahua cheese and served with warm tortillas. As anyone who’s ever had breakfast with me will attest, I love building little sandwiches out of anything in front of me. So, the prospect of lathering up a tortilla with a bit of cheese excited me. The queso fundido we chose had green (?) chorizo with spinach. Unlike other versions I’ve had in the past, this QF was rather meaty. Chunks of delicious chorizo covered the surface of the cheese. Spinach did make an appearance, though it was more of a cameo rather than a starring role. I loved it, and I highly recommend you try this dish.

For our entrees, we both ordered tacos (not that we had much of a choice!). The list of tacos is creative, to say the least, and I opted for possibly the most boring one: chicken. But! The tender chicken pieces came with black kale, crema and salsa verde, for a satisfying combination of flavors. I ordered two, but you’re welcome to order three, if you’re hungry. Pro tip: get the chips and QF like I did, and just order two tacos. MLDP tried the fish tacos, which were doused in tempura and looked quite good.

milk chocolate flan at empellon taqueria

milk chocolate flan

The helpful waitress came over to us once we were finished with our entrees and asked us about dessert. She rattled off a few options, and we landed on the milk chocolate flan, which came with densely cinnamon-flavored ice cream and crumbled (Oreo?) cookies. ‘Twas delish, but don’t count on having that when you go. It sounded like the desserts rotate.

Empellón Taqueria is definitely at the top of my list of New York City taco shops. I’ve been told that Salvation Taco is a must-try and I’ll definitely report back with an assessment once I go. For now, I urge you to go to Empellón Taqueria. You’ll need a reservation, most likely—even on a weeknight! So head to OpenTable now and get to this restaurant as soon as you can.

Empellón Taqueria

230 W. 4th St. (at W. 10th  Street)

West Village, New York

Take the 1 to Christopher Street, walk north one block and turn left onto West 4th Street.

The Red Cadillac (Union, NJ)

The weather forecast promised snow, but we decided to trek to New Jersey anyway. My Dining Partner (MDP) and I were dead set on delivering a brand new TV to my mom, a week before the Super Bowl, snow be damned. The TV was meant to be a gift for my mother’s birthday, which is in February, and we wanted to cap off the evening with a special dinner at The Red Cadillac, a Mexican restaurant located on Morris Avenue.

red cadillac nachos

Cadillac nachos

Situated among big box pharmacies and 7-11 outposts, The Red Cadillac features a genuine red cadillac out front. It’s no wonder the owner decided to park his car there; in the back, parking is spare. I pulled into the slosh-filled driveway and parked my car in what was probably a handicap spot, but the blanket of white and grey muck obscured the wheelchair figure that was certain to be painted on the macadam. “This okay here?” I shouted to someone who seemed to work there. “It’s valet parking, but that’s fine,” he said. And so we entered.

A sign beckoning “no sports caps” welcomed us as we walked through the double doors of the entrance. Dim lighting washes the spacious interior and helpful hostesses greeted us and sat us at a table in the back. MDP observed that there were plenty more seats available at The Red Cadillac than parking spots behind the joint. We received plastic-covered menus on clipboards and proceeded to survey the options. A bucket of chips with chipotle-inflected salsa were brought to our table, along with some drinks. Honestly, the chips and salsa turned out to be the best part of the meal.

To begin, we ordered the Cadillac nachos, which come with bits of steak covered with monterey jack and cheddar cheeses. Tiny buckets of thickly chunked guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo sat in the center of the plate. I took two bites of the nachos and declared them unsatisfactory. The steak tasted like sausage and seemed out of place. The melted cheeses were fine enough, but didn’t scream authentic or special to me. Though we polished off the plate, I’m not sure anyone was thoroughly impressed with the fare.

red cadillac beef burrito

beef burrito

For our entrees, I ordered the chicken fajitas, while my mom got the beef burrito and MDP tried the pork chimichanga, per the recommendation of the waitress. My chicken fajitas were spicy enough (as requested), yet the seasoning was too heavily applied. There was little nuance of spiciness in this dish; it was all or nothing. The flour tortillas that accompanied my fajitas were stiff and cold, lacking the warm suppleness found aplenty in decent Mexican establishments. My mom enjoyed the burrito, but when I took a bite, it felt reminiscent of the Ortega seasoning in the make-your-own-burrito box from the grocery store. MDP’s chimichanga was fine, yet the chunks of pork were drowning in what tasted like the chipotle salsa used for the chips and salsa on the table. I wasn’t pleased with anyone’s dish.

When I received the bill, which I deemed too much for what we had (in terms of value; the prices were added up correctly), I was even more disappointed in the experience.

If you’re looking for good Mexican food, don’t look toward The Red Cadillac to satisfy your predilection. There’s got to be better Mexican food in New Jersey than this, so do some exploring. I found myself comparing The Red Cadillac to Dos Caminos and Rosa Mexicano, since TRC’s prices are nearly in the range of the high-end Mexican cuisine of those two restaurants. Without a doubt, the food isn’t nearly as good.

If you know of a decent Mexican place in the suburbs, give me a shout in the comments. I’d love to try a new restaurant.

The Red Cadillac

2258 Morris Avenue

Union, NJ  07083