For those who know me, they know that I attribute most of my food experiences and knowledge to New York City. The culinary scene in this multi-faced city not only has made me adventurous, it has also left me always hungry for more. Until now, however, food offered by trucks has not persuaded me to overcome my sit-down-and-be-served mentality. I come from a culture that treats food as another means of communication, and rarely can that happen while standing around and biting a sandwich as sauce drips onto the sidewalk.
The food truck at the New York Botanical Garden, La Casa Azul Tacos, celebrating the exhibition of Frida Kahlo: Art. Garden. Life. (May 16 to November 1-2015), led me to overcome my reservations. It was surrounded by spacious and pleasant tables, lending the feel of an urban picnic. I was so delighted that I returned again and again. The staff members were always welcoming and happy to help. They also provide daily agua frescas (flavored water with fruits, seeds, or cereals and sugar) to sample while deciding what to order. And the dishes were always served promptly.
Corn chips with smoked tomate salsa and guacamole are a must, although the latter could have been doubled in size ($7). The real deal for me, though, was the tacos: all the tacos.
Three varieties of taco, all of a medium size, were on offer (fish, chicken and beef). Perhaps next time they will offer vegetarian options. The fish taco ($4.75) consisted of a battered snapper fillet that was deep-fried but light as air (think of a thin and crispy crust, with tender fish that is fatty for all the good reasons). Each flavorful piece of fish is covered with chiffonade of cabbage and tangy red onion (lightly pickled) and drizzled with chipotle remoulade (thick sauce) that added a welcomed creaminess.
The chipotle chicken tinga (pulled chicken, $4) was the second winner of the taco race. The chicken was cooked just right and not dry, thanks to a sauce that was spicy and balanced. I enjoyed the fact that the leaves used in this dish were shredded lettuce. It added both moistness and crunch. Shaved radish, queso fresco (of a very good quality, as evidenced by its distinctive taste) and chopped green onions were served atop the chicken taco.
The beef tacos ($4) were of a totally different texture and taste. To start with, they did not offer any crunch. The small, diced pieces of beef seemed to have been braised in a roasted tomato sauce (molcajete) after being grilled and topped with radish, green onions and cilantro. They had a full, pleasant taste, but unfortunately were competing with two other strong candidates. Therefore, the beef tacos occupy third place in the competition.
Quesadillas poblano (vegetarian) ($4) was a dark horse. I underestimated it because of its outwardly dull appearance, with nothing but a few shaved red radishes on top as a very unattractive garnish (totally unneeded!). But upon first bite, the flavor of grilled corn hit me with pleasure. I tasted the Oaxaca cheese and poblano chili, which were thoughtfully chosen supporting ingredients. I would have sprinkled some garlic aioli on top of the toasted tortilla to add texture, flavor and definitely a better presentation. (For an added experience, I added Valentina salsa picante (creamy Mexican hot sauce, available at the service counter.)
When it came to desserts, there was only one choice on offer: churros. About 7-8 finger-size mini pieces of slim churros ($4) were served in a paper boat, coated in sugar and cinnamon and covered with light chocolate sauce and whipped cream. It was a fun dessert: the whipped cream was rounded and the churros provided a slight crispiness with the right amount of sugar and cinnamon. However, the churros were so slim that their doughy flavor was overwhelmed by other accompaniments.
My visits to the Casa Azul Tacos yielded enjoyable experiences. The food was consistent and very memorable. Flavors, especially of the tacos, were pronounced and served with thoughtful accompaniments. The tortillas used were made from flavorful corn masa. Overall, prices were reasonable.