Run the Dish Ep. 3: Christian Pineda, the Man Who Brought Legit TJ Tacos to Chelsea

When I moved to New York, a little over a year and a half ago, my best friend sent me out on the quest to find good tacos in NY. I naturally went on the hunt for my favorite: the tacos al pastor as they’re known in the center of Mexico, (they also go by taco de adobada, or trompo in the north of Mexico).

I tried several taquerias from Harlem all the way to Sunset Park, but one day, while walking and exploring the city with one of my roommates, we walked into Chelsea Market. There, we saw a huge line outside of one of the vendor halls next to a spice market, and discovered a Mexican market-looking food stall. I saw vitrolas filled with tamarind, hibiscus and horchata waters, Mexican sodas, and the pièce de résistance: the majesty of a real rotating spit stacked with marinated pork.

I knew I had to try them to see if the wait was worth the taco – especially because their name “Tacos No 1” is quite the statement. Let me tell you, they definitely live up to it. Delicate, thinly, slightly charred pork slices sit atop a warm handmade tortilla, with fresh chopped cilantro, white onion and pineapple topped with a roasted red sauce. After adding a few drops of lime, I bit into it and I was in Mexico.

I think many Mexicans will agree with me that truest test of a good taquería is the quality of the tacos al pastor. Originating in the state of Puebla, México, the Al Pastor creation was influenced by the large Arab population that migrated to this area in the 20th century, where they were first called “tacos orientales” (tacos from the orient). Tacos al pastor derived from the wonderful döner kebab or the shawarma, and they consist of thinly sliced pork shoulder, marinated overnight in an achiote (a paste made with annatto seeds used frequently in México for different preparations like cochinita or adobos) and other adobo spices. The meat is stacked and seasoned on a metal skewer until it forms a large spit, vertically cooked against an open flame until crisped, then sliced thinly on a freshly made corn tortilla and accompanied with a beautiful medley of fresh onion, cilantro and grilled pineapple. It’s not the original way, but, in my opinion, it is the most mouthwatering.

Ok, now back to what’s important. Christian, one of the founders of Tacos No. 1 was born and raised in Tijuana, Baja California. After graduating high school, he decided to pursue his dream of being an architect, and landed a job at a firm in NY. In his free time, and mildly homesick, he’d wander the city looking for good Tijuana-style street food. Unfortunately, he came up short. That’s when he decided to team up with partners Tyler Sanders (architect) and Kyle Cameron (filmmaker) both from Brawley CA., to conquer the New York Taco world.

Watch the video above to learn more about what he’s serving up at Tacos No. 1.