NYC’s Best Taqueria Ups Their Taco Game With the New Carnitas Ramirez
All tacos are $5 each; a side of chicharrón (which you should definitely get) is $3. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

NYC’s Best Taqueria Ups Their Taco Game With the New Carnitas Ramirez

Learn why Carnitas Ramirez, located in Alphabet City, is our $20 Dinner columnist's favorite new restaurant of 2024.

Tania Apolinar and Giovanni Cervantes didn't plan on becoming New York City taco heroes. But when the photography studio where they worked got shut down during the pandemic, they knew they had to shift gears, and fast. Cervantes grew up in Mexico City, and Apolinar is from Torreón, in northern Mexico, and so they thought, why not open a taqueria? Taqueria Ramirez, their tiny shop on residential Oak Street in Greenpoint, opened in September of 2021—and it's a career move for which the rest of us are forever grateful. 

Now, Cervantes told Hell Gate, their taqueria serves more than 2,000 unapologetically CDMX-style tacos a day—think cuts of cow like tripa and suadero burbling away in lard for hours before getting plopped onto your tortillas. Add an al pastor beauty and a funky little chorizo number to the mix, and you've got the best taco spot in town.    

A couple of years ago, though, Apolinar and Cervantes began itching to expand into Manhattan, preferably downtown. While their first thought was simply to open a sort of cut-and-paste version of their taqueria, they also weren't interested in creating some sort of scalable chain. "Me and Tania were like, how are we going to do this without abandoning our original project?" said Cervantes. "And how can we make this possible in the most humane, realistic, and fun way for us and our team?" 

Their solution was two-fold. First, they partnered with another couple, Kari Boden and Yvon de Tassigny, the latter a long-time chef at Fette Sau and St. Anselm ("Meat has been my thing for some time," said de Tassigny), and the former a seasoned front-of-house pro. Second, just to keep things interesting, they decided to ditch their taqueria menu and go all in on pig: ears, snout, tongue, cheek, butt, stomach, brains, and tail. The whole hog, so to speak.

Thus was born Carnitas Ramirez, my favorite new restaurant of the year.  

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Located right off Avenue B on East Third Street, Carnitas Ramirez only serves, you guessed it, carnitas tacos, which here means cooking all of those pig parts together in a big vat of lard. The only seasonings are salt and a bit of garlic. You choose your cut (just look at the steam table or check out the pig anatomy sketch that someone drew onto a mirror), and Cervantes and de Tassigny hack it into pieces and plop it onto a corn tortilla. Further toppings are up to you: There are two kinds of salsas (red and green, both lively and delicious), pickled onions, and a chunky jalapeño mix in big bowls near the register as well as in cute little containers on the tables in the back room.    

Meat burbling away in big vats of lard. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"One of my best friends is from Michoacán, which is known for its carnitas," said Cervantes. "When we were deciding to do this, I had a chance to go and he showed me, this is the way we do it here. It's very minimal. The tricky part is getting to know the meats, in terms of the times and temperature they need to be inside the pot." 

Well, they nailed it. I've eaten at least six or seven different tacos so far at Carnitas Ramirez and loved every one. It's impossible to choose favorites. The offal is all terrific, especially the oreja (ears), lengua (tongue), and trompa (snout). Right now, the sesos (brains) is only available as a special and inside a mini empanada of sorts called a sesadilla, but it too is delicious. Cervantes said they're still working on a source for matriz (uterus), which real carnitas devotees say is the best one. "We want to make this a proper Mexican experience," said de Tassigny, "and not just serve what you usually get in New York as burrito or taco meat." 

A close up of the oreja (ear), $5. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

What I call the "gringo cuts"—maciza (a mix of loin, leg, and shoulder), costilla (ribs), and buche (stomach)—are equally excellent. If you're uncertain how to round out your order (three or four tacos here make for a satisfying meal), just order a surtida, a sort of "chef's choice" assortment, and Cervantes and de Tassigny will pile on a combo of items for you. No matter what, I recommend getting a side of their chicharrón, or fried skin, which gets strewn on top. 

This food critic in action. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

There is one vegan option, a taco with rajas con papa (chilis and potatoes), that I hear is good. As at Taqueria, there's no takeout available unless you bring your own container. But you can buy a pound of whatever meats you want for $60, an order that also comes with enough tortillas to make your own tacos (help yourself to the toppings bar, too). Unlike at Taqueria, you can get beer ($7) and wine ($10) at Carnitas. Mexican Coke, Topo Chico, and pour-your-own cups of water are also available. 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Either way, though, don't linger. Even though there are about 20 seats in the back room (where telenovelas play on a janky old TV), and space for another 10 guests at stools on either side of the big front window, you should still be considerate. Eat and leave to give other people a chance to gorge on all that carnitas. 

"It's been a life-changing thing, these restaurants," said Cervantes. "It's hard to remember our lives before the taqueria. We've been so deep into this, and you end up understanding that it's not just a job, it really becomes your life. I'm happy with that, happy that we built a really good team. It feels strong. We like each other. I feel really good about that, to walk into Taqueria and now Carnitas and feel the energy of the people." 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Carnitas Ramirez is located at 210 East Third Street, just east of Avenue B, and is currently open from noon to 10 p.m. on Friday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and from noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday, with more days to come.    

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