The really good: Tacos Morelos in Queens, where four of us were steered by a DM to the Village Voice’s expert after our excursion to the totally awesome Louis Armstrong House/Museum in Corona. The neighborhood is lined with funky little taquerias and steam tables of all Central American persuasion, so my hopes were low. But this place was bright and cheery, with a full bar to boot (where the friendly owner spent part of our meal hanging Santas on poles and trapezes). The (free) salty chips tasted freshly fried and came with outstanding salsa. The chile relleno taco was even better than promised by the VV, a cheese-stuffed poblano that had been perfectly battered and fried and then laid onto orange rice in a good-size corn tortilla, with pickled jalapeño and onion for acidic heat. I didn’t brave my consort’s lengua and goat tacos, or our other friend’s roasted pork taco, or the third friend’s vegetarian tacos, but I liked the nopales salad well enough, mostly for the other elements: ripe avocado, sliced sweet peppers, mixed greens, lime juice. We did share guacamole that our friend just back from Mexico said was better than he had there. But the standout dish was my gordita, easily the best ever this far north of El Paso: crisp masa dough sandwiched with lettuce, cheese and crema, with green and red salsas for jazziness. Margaritas were fine, especially for $5 each, and the mojito was surprisingly decent as well. WIGB? I would spend more than an hour to get there to try some more of the less familiar options. That gordita haunts me. 94-13 37th Avenue, 347 332 91
The not great: Cascabel Taqueria on the Upper West Side, where we decided to brave Saturday brunch to avoid the cacophony we’d been warned of and where the room, service, prices etc. delivered everything the highly touted food did not. Queso fundido came in a Lilliputian cast-iron skillet with little evidence of rajas and even less of chorizo but with an abundance of bitter char on the cheese. (Lesson: Order it only at Rosa Mexicano, which does it so much better and larger [although I don’t care about the latter] for the same price.) Bob was baffled why the kitchen could not mix and match taco fillings as every other restaurant does, so he was stuck with two overloaded carnitas that were decidedly out of balance and totally underwhelming. Halfway through he asked: WIGB? And we agreed — not in any rush. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t good enough to keep us from walking up Broadway and into Chipotle to compare prices and options. Our few $ woulda been better dropped there.
The geographically perfect: Donatella in Chelsea, where we headed with four friends after a screening at the SVA theater and where at least my consort’s and my orders were outstanding (Enzo pizza with sausage, pecorino, smoked mozzarella and broccoli rabe plus a really good arugula salad with grilled zucchini and a bit of ricotta salata). Good service and wine, but the soggy/sad margarita pizza was a serious reflection of the distracted owner. 184 Eighth Avenue near 19th Street, 212 493 5150
The increasingly reliable: Elizabeth’s on the Upper West Side, for the third time, where I hooked up with Bob on a rainy/cold early evening and where we had the place almost to ourselves, with none of the threatened hoarseness on screaming through dinner. Fish and chips was even better, not to mention more copious, than the first time I had it (how often does that happen?) and the wings I stupidly advised him to order were at least artfully executed despite the too-sweet coating. Our shared salad rated an A, not least for the anything-but-ordinary radishes. WIGB? Always and forever. Can’t believe the same owners inflicted Gabriela’s on the neighborhood. 680 Columbus Avenue at 93d Street, 212 280 6500.