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Getting a great taco in Harlem? Sure .. El Aguila is your spot!

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Of course,  has a NYC Best Taco list.

There were two places after traveling the strip between Lexington and Second Avenue in the El Barrio section of East Harlem and taste testing at the best taquerias and definitely El Aguila was a winner for me. (Disclaimer .. I’m not the greatest fan of tacos .. I think they’re small and stupid – when you get them in those crappy chain Tex-Mex restaurants)

Here is a great criteria list of judging a great taco from Serious Eats (note this is straight copy/paste … why bother, when someone did the work for me … unlike my roti ranking scale … )

The Taco Criteria

I evaluated the tacos on criteria of  the tortilla, filling, and topping quality.

  • The Tortillas (10 points): They need to be properly warmed through on the comal. Cold, brittle, or stale tortillas are not acceptable. They need to be moist and pliable, with the ability to stay intact, despite any amount of juices soaked into them. Ideally, there should be little charred spots here and there to add a touch of flavor, and unless they are of the particularly thick hand-made variety, they should always be double stacked in order to provide both structural support, as well as balanced corn flavor.
  • The Filling(s) (15 points): Whatever the choice of filling, it should be moist and flavorful, well salted, and either tender enough or chopped finely enough that you can bite into a taco without dragging half a cow out from between the folded tortilla. Obviously, the meat should taste fresh and relatively gristle-free. Fattiness is generally a good thing here.
  • The Toppings (5 points): A great taco really needs nothing more than onions, cilantro, lime, and a salsa. And I’m not talking the jarred, tomato-paste based variety, or even a fresh, chopped pico de gallo. Tacos should be topped with a relatively thin, chili-based salsa with intense, fresh chili flavor, and heat. Once these basics have been settled, there’s room for a few extras if desired. Fresh crema, perhaps a few beans (if you really want—I’m not too keen on the idea), chopped tomatoes or chilis—anything goes, as long as the cardinal rule is followed: every topping must support the experience, not detract from or dominate it.

So walking into El Aguila … this is a tortilleria, panederia, and taqueria all rolled into one, their main feature is a giant copper cazo in which pork shoulders slowly simmers. Also ordering is not really intuitive, but if you sit down and observe for 3 mins, you will figure out the procedure.

However, once you figure out which tacos to get, you take note of the fresh unlimited salsa bar and generous portions. Never mind that it doesn’t look that great, but it’s usually covered – but the salsa are damn awesome!

As for the food – the tacos include slowly simmered pork shoulders enveloped in yummy tortillas reheated in pork fat, and topped with fresh onions and cilantro, and great rice and beans.

In the end, here are the stats on the tacos

  • The Tortilla: 7/10 The tortillas are made on premises and are reheated the right way, with a few little spots of char and a moist, tender, supple texture.
  • The Filling: 14/15 They reheat their fillings on a flattop in pork fat. While the Al Pastor were the best, the carnitas is no slouch, especially when it crisps up on its edges in the pork fat.
  • The Toppings: 5/5 Onions and cilantro are fresh as can be, and you’ve got your choice of four salsas–a verde with legitimate heat, an avocado puree, a bright orange chipotle-based creamy sauce, and a classic rojo. All are flavorful and fresh.

Overall: 26/30

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at [email protected]

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