In a city that always seems to have its ear turned upside down due to Mexican food trends, it’s no surprise that Taqueria Ramirez Heads are directed. Greenpoint taqueria served its first tacos at 94 Franklin Street, on Oak Street, in early August, and within a month had already been named one of the best taco restaurants in New York City.
This award is partly due to the fact that despite living in a city of over 8 million people, owner Tania Apollinar and Giovanni Cervantes noticed something that most New Yorkers seemingly missed. Taqueria is one of the few Mexican restaurants in town that makes tacos using choricera, the stainless steel bowls of mixed meat and intestines commonly found in Mexico City. “I haven’t seen any places like this in New York,” Apollinar says.
The couple, who lives next door to their restaurant, were looking for a Mexico City-style taqueria in Brooklyn and, failing to find one, they built their own. They opened Taqueria Ramirez last month, serving tripe and pastry tacos two days a week as a popup. What was supposed to be a “simple opening,” as Cervantes and Apollinar perfected their recipes, turned out to be one of the neighborhood’s worst-kept secrets. Fonts have grown. suadero has been sold.
Cervantes and Apollinar took a week-long break before the full opening earlier this month, during which time they brought in Taqueros Carlos Perez and Bernardino Reyes. When the team put back the long hours on September 8, news of their tacos reached the rest of town. “I knew it was going to be crazy,” Apolinar said before her last weekend dinner service, but it’s not clear if she expected the long streaks that form outside the taqueria most days before opening.
It’s tough for a team with no prior experience of owning and operating a restaurant. There are Cervantes and Apolinar backgrounds in photography, which came in handy in designing the hand-drawn Taqueria menu, calligraphy on the neon sign, and faded blue uniforms, but less so when concerned with endless customer lines and preparing weekly meat deliveries. “We’re coming up with a solution for it,” laughs Apollinar.
At the couple’s first restaurant, they were looking for something “quick casual,” according to Apollinar, which by which means fast. And the Casual, not dewy and corporate. “We wanted it to be like Mexico City,” she says, referring to the city’s fast-paced, high-energy restaurants, where customers can be in and out in less than 15 minutes without ever sitting down. It’s one of the reasons taqueria serves Topo Chicos, not Modelos.
Most nights, an exhilarating playlist blares from a speaker in the corner of the outdoor kitchen until 10 p.m. Sometimes this inescapable cover of Volari by Gipsy Kings, other times the music drowns out the sound of white hipsters dismantling taqueria’s in Predominantly Spanish menu. “Longaneza,” one customer commented while standing in front of the restaurant last weekend. “I think that’s the tongue.”
The heart of the bubbling taqueria is the choricera, a collective cauldron of meat and offal that is sometimes referred to as a jacuzzi – pronounced “ya cuzzi” – by Spanish speakers, and rightly so. Tripe strips appear next to lumps of suadero like a Loch Ness creature. The restaurant’s suadero, a thick cut of beef that rarely gets the star treatment in Brooklyn, is cooked for over three hours and then sliced. It can be ordered on its own or, better yet, mixed with longaniza in taco kamisano.
The juices of red brick stew are used to cut tortillas on the grill. Not quite the crispness of a Tijuana-style birria, but enough to make tortillas, which come from a recently relocated Tortilleria Nixtamal in Woodland Park, New Jersey, the occasional crunch.
In a town teeming with vegetarian and vegan Mexican restaurants, the preparation method may not be the most intuitive—”they may all have lard,” Taqueria’s menu proudly states—but it is considered one of the most delicious. The restaurant tripe cooks for three to four hours before Cervantes finishes it with a mouse with a portable blowtorch. Coated in tortillas, their crunchy leftovers are truly among the best in town.
One of the two off-the-shelf tacos at the Coricera is the querriera nopales. The hard-to-make cactus dish is sometimes the ugly stepson of New York City tacoria, but here it’s made with beans, tomatoes, onions, and cubes of queso anejo. (Again, it helps that everything may contain lard.) The other is Cervantes eating the priest, a slightly sweet meat shaved straight off the spit with a piece of pineapple.
All tacos are $4, except for tripe, which costs a dollar more. The tacos come unadorned and neatly arranged on colorful plastic plates imported from Mexico City by a friend of the owners. At one end of the quiqueria is a set of crockery serving onions, cilantro, lemon wedges, and two sauces: one made with chile de arbol and habanero, and a milder version made with serrano chiles and tomatillo.
Taqueria Ramirez is open for indoor and outdoor dining, with no plans to offer takeaway or delivery in the near future. “You have to eat it right now,” Apollinar says. “When a taco cools, the fat doesn’t taste good,” as anyone who has eaten frozen tortillas or tripe will attest. There are 10 highchairs inside the restaurant but in the last days of summer the best seats are at the standing counter outside, where a group of neighborhood dogs lick off grease stains and Longaniza’s droppings.
Cervantes and Apolinar hail from CDMX and the city of Torréon in northern Mexico, respectively. The couple met five years ago while working at the Greenpoint Colony photography studio and started making tacos during office lunches. Cervantes appeared at Brooklyn Safehouse, a Greenpoint dive around the corner from a taqueria, and eventually in nearby Transmitter Park. When a former coffee shop opened on Oak Street during the pandemic, they doubled down on those plans.
The couple designed the entire living room, right down to the soft orange bathroom, corsera, and komal, which were custom-made in Mexico City. The restaurant’s logo, the down-biting street dog, is inspired by animals roaming rooftops in Mexico and has nothing to do with the couple’s pet next door, a Pomeranian named Jane.
Taqueria Ramirez is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 5 to 10 p.m. Note: The line can form half an hour before the restaurant opens, so get there early for your first trip from tripa and best of trompo.