TacoVision is a brand new bi-level restaurant on East 53rd Street that sells tacos and agave shots in a colorful, copiously-branded setting. "Be the Taco," implores the outside of your bag. "Take Me To Your Taco," shouts a piece of merchandise. This part of East 53rd is packed with fast-casual eating options, so as goofy as it feels it makes sense that they have to yell a bit to get your attention. The owners and management team are from the nearby Crave Fishbar, a popular boozy spot, and though there's no overlap in terms of menu, they are clearly gunning for the same crowd of area office workers and local party people.
Get your meal downstairs at TacoVision and everything's done counter-service style. You order at the registers in the back, grab a numbered sign and a seat, and a runner will bring your food as it's ready, which can mean one taco at a time. Everything's served on colorful ceramic plates, so there's very little waste, and someone will pop by to bus your table and ask how everything is going as soon as you finish each dish. It's a friendly, efficient operation.
Walk up one flight and the TacoVision scene shifts a bit, with moodier lighting, table service, and a full bar. The room up here is long and narrow, but the front has a big window that opens out onto 53rd Street, and the back has a patio, coming soon, so it feels comfortably spacious and airy. You order by checking off which items you want on a little scorecard (the menu is the same as downstairs) and, again, everything is brought out as soon as it's done.
I'm going to get this out of the way right up top: these tacos are pricey, usually around $5 or $6 each. And unless you're taking the tiniest of bites you'll get through a taco in two or three chomps. Fortunately, most of the seven varieties I tried (out of twelve total) were very good, so if you order well it doesn't feel like a rip off. The tortillas used for everything are "house-pressed" daily using organic blue corn — they're fine, though perhaps less sturdy than you'd like.
The best taco was the most basic, a first-rate Al Pastor (pork shoulder, pineapple, chipotle) that was juicy, meaty, and packed with big flavors. The Chicken Shawarma was also pretty great, with jalapeño tahini and thin-sliced Israeli pickles really punching up the roasted chicken thigh, and the Cheeseburger Taco (sorry, the "LaFrieda Dry-Aged Cheeseburger" Taco) was a big surprise winner, with the meat beautifully cooked and smothered in queso and a zesty relish.
In general, the kitchen crew obviously know and care about what they're doing. The Fried Brussels Sprouts Taco may not have made much sense as a taco, but it was delicious, and the Crispy Oyster was also expertly prepared, though I would have rather eaten a bunch of these on a plate instead of one lonely bivalve inside a tortilla. The braised Short Rib was too complicated for its own good, the Spicy Shrimp wasn't, and the Roasted Local Porgy was overwhelmed by the tomatoes.
On the Not Tacos side of the menu I would tell you to skip the rather bland Guacamole but you'll probably get it anyway, and then chuckle when it arrives Atla-style with oversized chips. I ordered the Mushroom Chorizo Quesadilla thinking there was actual sausage involved (it's ground mushrooms acting as chorizo) and that it would look like a quesadilla (it's just like one of their tacos, with melted cheese), but it's still a satisfying dish. Finally, down in the Sides department, the bowl of Roasted Corn was terrific, taking full advantage of the sweet, in-season kernels.
TacoVision is a fun environment with some good food that costs more than you want it to. If you're in this neighborhood with any sort of frequency, and can get past the price, it's definitely worth putting on your list of options, for lunch, drinks-and-snacks, or dinner.
TacoVision is located at 244 East 53rd Street, between Third and Second Avenues, and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and on Sundays until 12:00 midnight (646-921-1990; tacovisionnyc.com)
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