Tacos on the UWS

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Tacombi: The Yucatan Delivers

Tacos on the UWS

Tacombi’s fresh corn esquites salad is mixed with spicy morita mayo and cotija cheese.

          Location matters more than ever these days with traffic often creeping.  If I want tacos — and yes, I often do — there is Playa Betty’s, a five minute walk from my hacienda. No way can I resist “Tot” Chos — tater tots decked out in nacho excess.  Preceded by guacamole and followed by a trio of tacos, California-beach style.

Tacos on the UWS

At Playa Betty’s the guacamole comes with a collection of add-ons.

Tacos on the UWS

At Playa Betty’s the tacos come with a blast of noise and music you can barely hear.

          We would try to score a table against the far wall and numb the painful clamor with margaritas while gorging on way too many chips and guacamole, possibly with Playa’s dozen different toss-ons. So maybe we don’t desperately need a nearby branch of Tacombi  — “born on the balmy beaches of the Yucatan, serving authentic Mexican tacos out of a converted VW bus.”

Tacos on the UWS

Tables are widely spaced in the vast canteen that used to be Sugar and Plumm, now Tacombi UWS.

          There is already a Tacombi in Nolita, on Bleecker Street, in Flatiron, across from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and on the ground floor of the Empire State Building. But I didn’t really notice Tacombi until it moved into the sprawling space that used to be Sugar & Plumm, “Purveyors of Yum,” forty-three hundred square feet of sugar and fat.

          For a while the vast canteen was echoing from the din of careering toddlers racing in pursuit of each other. But now as Tacombi, the tables are spaced far apart and family groups seem to have their young’uns mostly in check.

Tacos on the UWS

Aiming the camera at Valentina, our server, sends her into Hollywood poses.

          It’s a challenge to get a server’s attention. And the margaritas aren’t remarkably thrilling, but they’re good enough to chase away the insults of a bruising workday. On the corner of each table in a steel napkin dispenser, a cache of stainless tableware and paper straws.

Tacos on the UWS

Tacombi’s house-made chips are excellent for scooping up guacamole.  

          My niece Dana’s friend Carol travels as a jewelry saleswoman. Tonight we discuss trends and bosses, husbands, and the tricks of travel. The chatter goes well with guacamole con totopos (the excellent chips are house-made).

Tacos on the UWS

I ordered a second portion of corn esquites when Carol discovered how good the first one was.

          I seem to be the only one eating the zippy corn esquites. Sweet summer corn makes me happy. I finish one large $3.95 of the street salad and order another in case Dana and Carol decide to taste it. 

Tacos on the UWS

Dana cuts each taco into three portions for sharing. This is barbacoa beef.

          Tacos — pollo yucateco (marinated chicken), barbacoa (slow roasted angus beef) and al pastor (Mexico City-style pork with pineapple) — take a while to appear and sort out.  The beer-battered Atlantic haddock in poblano mayo is especially good. I take a tiny corner of someone’s seared Atlantic pollock with chile salsa.

Tacos on the UWS

Marinated chicken taco and beer-battered Atlantic haddock.

          I pass on the tacos and order the gobernador quesadilla with tight little nubbins of seared shrimp and dried chile salsa. Maybe next time I’ll try super egg tacos con pastor or a gringa quesadilla with pork.

       “What do you have for dessert?” Carol asks Valentina, our server.

       “Nothing,” she replies. “We don’t do dessert.”

Tacos on the UWS

The gobernador quesadilla is scattered with tight little nubbins of shrimp and dried chile salsa.

       We pretend to be deeply offended…And maybe we actually are a little put off.

       “There’s an ice cream store next door,” Valentina informs us.

       Outside, it’s starting to rain again and Dana grabs a taxi. We drive past the ice cream shop.  “Hey, what about ice cream?” I ask as we head down Broadway. “Probably best to forget it,” we agree.  At 73rd Street, Carol grabs her rolling suitcase from the trunk of the taxi and runs into the subway. I imagine her jewelry samples flashing rubies and emeralds. Brave broad.

377 Amsterdam Avenue between 78th and 79th Street. 646 822 3383. Sunday through Thursday 11 am to 11 pm.  Friday and Saturday 11 am to Midnight. 


  • In her role as restaurant critic of New York Magazine (1968 to January 2002) Detroit-born Gael Greene helped change the way New Yorkers (and many Americans) think about food. A scholarly anthropologist could trace the evolution of New York restaurants on a timeline that would reflect her passions and taste over 30 years from Le Pavillon to nouvelle cuisine to couturier pizzas, pastas and hot fudge sundaes, to more healthful eating. But not to foams and herb sorbet; she loathes them. As co-founder with James Beard and a continuing force behind Citymeals-on-Wheels as board chair, Ms. Greene has made a significant impact on the city of New York. For her work with Citymeals, Greene has received numerous awards and was honored as the Humanitarian of the Year (l992) by the James Beard Foundation. She is the winner of the International Association of Cooking Professionals magazine writing award, 2000, and a Silver Spoon from Food Arts magazine. Ms. Greene's memoir, "Insatiable, Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess"(www.insatiable-critic.com/Insatiable_Book.aspx )was published April 2006. Earlier non-fiction books include "Delicious Sex, A Gourmet Guide for Women and the Men Who Want to Love Them Better" and "BITE: A New York Restaurant Strategy." Her two novels, "Blue skies, No Candy" and "Doctor Love" were New York Times best sellers. Visit her website at: www.insatiable-critic.com

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