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$20 Dinner

Tacombi CDMX Vs. Yellow Rose: A Taco Showdown in the East Village

A chain flush with cash goes up against a scrappy and beloved stalwart.

A plate of tacos next to a beach and cheese taco.

Who will win? (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"There are no good tacos in New York City" has likely come out of the mouth of the laziest, most cliché-spouting and incorrect person in your life. Sure, there are plenty of bad tacos to be found in this town. But there are also a ton of terrible burgers out there, and innumerable sad, soggy slices of pizza. It's a big place, this city of ours, full of wonders and horrors in equal measure. 

One of the most consistently magical taco spots in NYC, which the semi-imaginary dude quoted above has clearly never been to, is Yellow Rose in the East Village, a restaurant whose ramshackle charms prove to be the perfect setting for some truly excellent rustic-ish Texan food.

And then, about a month ago, the big-money-backed chain Tacombi opened a slick, CDMX-esque taqueria right down the block from Yellow Rose. Naturally, it's time for a taco showdown on Third Avenue. 

(And, yes, I know there's also that Taco Bell that opened last year right next door to Yellow Rose, but that shit is straight trash, sorry.)    

The Contender 

Earlier this summer in mid-July, a Tacombi opened up shop on East 12th Street, right off Third Avenue. This isn't really so newsworthy in and of itself. Ever since it got $27.5 million from Danny Meyer's investment group in 2021, the once-charming taco spot in Nolita has been on an expansion tear—except that here in the East Village, they're trying something new. 

Instead of Tacombi's usual Baja crispy fish, beef birria, and carnitas crowd-pleasers, this outpost is going full Mexico City, with a tight menu of CDMX street-vendor classics. First and foremost, there's the suadero taco, made from a cut of cow that Pete Wells wrote is sometimes called the fly shaker, because it's the muscle the animals use to twitch their flanks and, hopefully, discourage biting insects from settling in for supper.     

The choricero at the new Tacombi, in which they cook the suadero and the longaniza. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

As popular as suadero is in Mexico City and in much of Latin America, it is much less commonly used in New York City (the obvious exception being the brilliant Taqueria Ramírez in Greenpoint), and so it's a good thing that a place as financially juiced as Tacombi is bringing it to the forefront of this new venture.

Tacombi's al pastor taco, $4.98; suadero taco, $5.49; and longaniza taco, $4.98. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Unfortunately, the suadero here isn't very good. Or I should say, it's as uninspired and unexciting as everything else coming from any of the Tacombi kitchens these days. 

The al pastor is also pretty lifeless—it was early in the evening when I visited, and already the trompo felt a little tired—but the longaniza taco had some spark to it, the sausage emerging with plenty of fire and flair from the burbling choricero hidden behind the counter. One final note: The tacos at this Tacombi are served with two thick tortillas apiece, a doubling-up strategy that only serves to bury the flavors further.  

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The Reigning Champ 

Yellow Rose, Dave and Krystiana Rizo's funky and funky restaurant featuring "cosmic Texas cooking" is, without question, one of my favorites places to eat in the East Village.   

The San Antonio-raised, Crown Heights-living couple both lost their jobs during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, Dave at Superiority Burger, Krystiana at Emmy Squared, and they opened Yellow Rose, located on Third Avenue near 13th Street, during that first pandemic fall of 2020. Yellow Rose has evolved over the past three years, but one thing's remained constant: the absolute killer tacos.

A close-up look at the Yellow Rose $4 masterpiece, the bean and cheese taco. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Seriously, these are big-flavored beasts, the housemade flour tortillas laden with simple, high-quality, sloppy-ass ingredients. The bean and cheese taco, for example, is phenomenal, though it's hard to say exactly why—it's just an oozing mound of refried beans, plus some shredded cheddar that's not even fully melted when it hits the table, with salsa served on the side. And yet, somehow it's one of the greatest dishes served anywhere in town.

For your viewing pleasure, the Yellow Rose bean and cheese taco, $4; the shredded chicken verde taco, $6; the beef barbacoa taco, $7. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Also delicious: The beef barbacoa taco, the tender, slow-cooked beef cheeks sticky in their juices, a slab of avocado adding further heft and a bit of brightness. You can add on cotija to this beauty for a $1.50, but it doesn't necessarily need it. The chicken verde one is also a winner, though I think I prefer the carne guisada. Just follow your heart—you can't go wrong with anything at Yellow Rose.        

The Winner 

Yeah, no contest. Yellow Rose for life. 

Tacombi is located at 139 East 12th Street, just west of Third Avenue, and is currently open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

Yellow Rose is located at 102 Third Avenue, just south of 13th Street, and is currently open on Tuesday through Friday from noon to 10 p.m.; on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for brunch, and then 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner; and on Mondays, aka "Not Tacos Night," from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
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