Friday, April 9, 2010

Always Hungry: New York’s Best Quesadilla

Sometimes it’s like bloggers read my mind when I want to generate new content for y’all – and they do it better and faster! So here from Always Hungry is a post about the best quesadillas in NYC. A post TK from me on the acceptable places for Mexican, since we all know New York has terrible Mexican food!


People have been talking about how good the quesadillas are at Dos Toros Taqueria. In early January, Oliver Strand called them “a marquee player.” Soon after, Ed Levine said, “I don’t think there is a better quesadilla to be had in all New York City.” We thought the same thing last November. But all this talk inspired the question: what are the City’s other great contenders?

Menupages puts the number of New York restaurants with ‘quesadilla’ on their menus at 860 (that only 468 are labeled Mexican may cause concern). Even crossing off Applebee’s and the like, determining the City’s best quesadilla would be daunting. After due diligence, we pitted seven steak renditions at well-regarded places against Dos Toros to see who might topple the quesadilla that would-be king.

Dos Toros’ quesadilla ($5.97) structure is atypical, begging a definition. Technically, a quesadilla is a tortilla filled with a savory mixture, folded, and fried. Some definitions allow cutting, but not wrapping. The texture of the tortilla at Dos Toros is crisp and bubbled. There’s a bold tri-fold move that creates a pocket for the ingredients. It’s no sincronizada— no classic, solo-tortilla fold-over move. Large chunks of soft steak, cheese, salsa, sour cream and guacamole (92¢ extra), — it’s all squirreled away inside so you get all the good flavors without the inconvenience of having to dip (cross-section, above). It’s quesadilla, burrito-style.

Below, in no particular order, are some of the other contenders we sought out.

Steak Quesadilla at Los Hermanos.

LOS HERMANOS, of course, makes their tortillas. They do the classic fold-over. It’s loose, like a giant soft taco with shredded lettuce, avocado slices, crema and queso Oaxaca. The cheese is not a binding agent, there’s little dressing or bite, the steak isn’t great, and you enjoy the tortilla more than the fillings.

How it Stacks Up: The taste doesn’t measure up to Dos Toros. Still, there are seven options (including salted beef and chorizo), and at $3 for one, it’s excellent value.

Steak Quesadilla from Downtown Bakery.

DOWNTOWN BAKERY bakes their quesadilla, and the texture of their tortilla is similar to that of a pita chip. Like Los Hermanos, the bi-fold is used, but the filling (equal parts Jack cheese and thin strips of steak) reaches the edge and adheres to the tortilla.

How it Stacks Up: Downtown Bakery is an undisputed gem, and the quesadilla is a full meal, but you really need the side of salsa verde to kick up the flavor.

La Esquina Taqueria’s Steak Quesadilla.

LA ESQUINA TAQUERIA does quesadillas sincronizada-style. The Quesadilla Simple ($5.50) comes with your choice of Oaxaca or Chihuahua Cheese (you’ll be lucky to just get in and out of there in twenty minutes with the quesadilla, forget specifying the cheese). Two flour tortillas are sparsely filled with cheese, grilled steak ($4.00 extra), diced tomatoes and cilantro. It’s very thin, not much thicker than most New York pizza slices.

How it Stacks Up: It tastes good, and the cup of roasted tomato and tomatillo salsa is vibrant, but as a total package, there’s more substance at Dos Toros.

Calexico Truck’s Rolled Carne Asada Quesadilla.

CALEXCIO calls their rendition a “Rolled Quesadilla,” but it really resembles a pressed burrito. In its initial stages it’s cylindrical, gradually flattening under the weight of a grill press. The juicy, chunks of meat in the Carne Asada Quesadilla ($7.00) have fantastic smoky, grill flavor. They’re bound by Cheddar and Jack— it’s very portable. There is little else standard fixings-wise— sides of guacamole, salsa, crema and avocado crema cost $1-$2 — but it is served with a cup of “Chipotle Crack Sauce,” and as many packets of Cholula as you want.

How it Stacks Up: A great specimen, but still second to Dos Toros.

Pampano’s Carne Asada Quesadilla with grilled hanger steak.

PAMPANO TAQUERIA in the Crystal Pavilion Food Court (805 Third Ave) just around the corner from Richard Sandoval’s Pampano, makes a pretty mean steak quesadilla (though it costs $11.95 and they can take a while). Again, the bi-fold move. Then it is halved, stacked, and wrapped in foil. The cheese is stringy. Prepare for one of the wettest, most juicy, greasy dripping quesadillas you have had.

How it Stacks Up: Not as good as Dos Toros, but the Taqueria’s Carne Asada Quesadilla, while messy, deserves respect. The selection of salsas you can choose from is impressive.

Mesa Coyoacan’s Carne Asada Quesadilla with grilled, marinated skirt steak that has been marinated in Mexican spices.

MESA COYOACAN makes a Carne Asada Quesadilla that is a special worth seeking out on the weekends (though they say they will make it if you ask). The housemade corn tortillas are thin, smaller than the others featured here. There are two to an order ($9.00), each folded over like a taco, not pressed or smushed haphazardly. They are filled with grilled grass-fed skirt steak, queso Oaxaca, and epazote, then dressed with crema fresca and avocado salsa. There is nothing delicate about the flavor— you really taste the tortilla along with the other components.

How it Stacks Up: An excellent special when you can get a hold of it— an upscale steak quesadilla.

Pinche Taqueria’s Carne Asada Quesadilla.

PINCHE TAQUERIA does a Carne Asada Quesadilla featuring charbroiled steak, cheese, and onions in a soft flour tortilla that’s slightly browned and toasty on the outside ($6.75). The chips are superfluous to these purposes, but the side of guacamole is an appreciated touch.

How it Stacks Up: Respectable, but it doesn’t approach Dos Toros.

CONCLUSION: At the end of the day, Dos Toros reigns supreme. Structure, overall quality, individual flavors, component distribution, texture— it is the whole package. Now we can sleep, and eat easier.



*How sad is it that I’ve had 5 of these quesadillas? I definitely need to get to Dos Toros, but the problem is it’s right next to my gym! I look longingly in the window and at the line spilling out into the street after a workout.

My call (without having tasted Dos Toros)? Tough. La Esquina definitely is the most frequent for me – I called their adding quesadillas to the menu “life changing” – and I still mean it. But, that Calexico cart quesadilla is something unbelievable. Haven’t made it out to their new location in Brooklyn, but anytime I’m in Soho on a nice weekday, I head over to Wooster and Prince.

cheesy kisses xo

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