Tortas and Tacos Al Pastor Cart

History of Tacos Al Pastor

Al pastor, or shepherd style is one of the most eye-catching of all Mexican specialties. A spit of red-hued stacked sliced pork rotates on a trompo, a vertical rotisserie. If this sounds like shawarma or gyro to you, there is a reason for it. Thanks to the immigration of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico in the late 1800’s, these culinary techniques came along. Instead of using lamb or beef, pork is the meat of choice.

Al Pastor in NYC

In New York, many places don’t offer al pastor on the traditional trompo. Instead, the marinated pork is often chopped up and griddled on a flat top. Maybe this is a product of perceived lack of demand, less desire to spend on an extra piece of equipment or convenience. In Jackson Heights and Corona, Queens, a few brick and mortar places offer al pastor meat that is shaved off of the rotating spit. Among them are Taqueria Coatzingo and Aqui en Bella Puebla. In East Harlem, Taco Mix is a well-known spot that specializes in al pastor meat.
Although the increased amount of rotating al pastor spits is a positive, not all of them are created equal. We had an unbelieveable al pastor experience during out trip to Tulum in 2015.  For the first and only time to date, we saw the use of charcoal to heat the rotating marinated pork. Importantly, the meat here was densely packed and cooked at a high temperature, which resulted in less greasy slices with a crisp outside texture. After our trip, this set the bar much higher for any al pastor that we would eat in the future.

First Experiences at the Al Pastor Cart

In Summer 2017, we noticed a new cart that set up on the corner of Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue on the border of Jackson Heights and Corona, Queens. During the day, this corner is packed with several carts with vendors hawking Ecuadorian food. After 10PM, the Ecuadorian vendors leave and Mexican vendors set up shop for the late night clientele. A large cone of achiote-stained red marinated pork surfaced in front of a heavy duty rotisserie. Much like the place in Tulum, the meat was densely packed an the rotisserie operated at a high temperature.
Immediately, we could tell this cart was something special. From the first order of tacos, we could taste a stark difference in the meat from the nearby vendors and restaurants.  There was also another key difference here – the use of a single tortilla. A single taco is usually made up of two shells. However, the flavors of the shaved pork are much more vibrant through only a single layer of tortilla. Our love for this cart grew, as each night the experience was a little different.
On some nights, the taquero who mans the trompo will impale a pineapple at the top of the spit. In a playful style, he slices a piece of pineapple and catches it with the filled taco. We could watch him all night long! Over time, we noticed that they set up on a limited schedule. Their amazing al pastor became a craving, turned addiction that is not often satisfied and even more rarely matched anywhere else!

A New Offering at the Al Pastor Cart

One night, we had just finished up an order of tacos al pastor at the cart. Just after paying, someone asked for a torta, the first time we had noticed this as an option. A few minutes later, we saw a large roll filled with a generous portion of shaved pork, sliced avocado, cilantro, onion and pineapple. As delicious as the tacos were, we wished that we had the stomach space for that torta! On the next visit, we immediately asked for a torta. The bread was fresh, fluffy, slathered with a little bit of melted butter and then griddled. This added an extra layer to the already phenomenal flavor combination of sweet, savory, salty and creamy. This was truly love at first bite. Anytime we were around and hungry late nights on weekends, the al pastor cart was a must-visit.

Disappearance and Re-Emergence

After many weekly visits, we noticed that they weren’t there on Easter weekend. Perhaps they were closed for the holiday? Another week went by where they weren’t around. Maybe they were on vacation? After two more weeks, we became increasingly worried that they were gone for good. We put some feelers out on Instagram and heard a few people say that there was an issue with their vendor permit.
One night after a long round-trip walk from Queens to East Harlem, I noticed some familar faces. Inside of a window at a restaurant/nightclub, there was the familiar sight of that densely packed al pastor on the trompo. They were back! It had been well over a month since the last time we had a bite of their al pastor. Coincidentally, this was the first day they had set up shop in this new location. Although the grill being used indoors was actually less powerful than the one on the cart,  the flavor of the meat was still superb. The lower-powered rotisserie proved to be a temporary setback, as was their tenure indoors. Soon after, they set up shop back on the cart. The issue in question was the permit and it was fortunately sorted out.
 Now, they set up shop every night at the corner of Junction and Roosevelt, usually sometime after 10:30PM. After the scare of their disappearance, we try to visit as much as we can. Not only do we go for the amazing food, but to support their great business as much as possible. Before our long flight to Asia, we stocked up on three tortas to eat on the plane. It is a much better option than the mostly awful airplane food!  You can see Jumi munching on the last one in this video. In fact, we love this cart so much that we nominated them for the 2018 Vendy Awards, which honors the best food vendors in NYC. It would be amazing to see them win a well-deserved award.
We can’t recommend visiting this cart enough. As difficult as it is for us to call anything the best, we can easily say this is the BEST al pastor we have had in New York City. After visiting Los Angeles and Mexico City and eating great tacos al pastor in both cities, it only heightened our respect for what they do here on Junction Boulevard.  If you haven’t been yet, hop on the 7 train to Junction Boulevard after 10:30PM. It is well worth the trip and the wait until the later hours of the evening.
Where is the best al pastor you have tasted? Are there any other spots in NYC that you enjoy al pastor? Let us know below in the comments!
Unnamed Tortas and Tacos Al Pastor Cart
Located at the north side of Roosevelt Avenue between Warren St and Junction Blvd (in front of the Check Cashing spot)
Jackson Heights, Queens, NY 11372
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