I had lunch yesterday at Tacombi, a taco place in Soho that is designed to make you feel like you are on the beach somewhere in Mexico. The space is bright and open and breezy and the tacos are assembled from inside an RV parked in the dining room.
The food was pretty good, but for one major issue: The tacos were $6 apiece. It should be against the law to charge $6 for a taco.
In defense of Tacombi, it is not the only place in New York City charging people for a single taco what it costs to do two loads of laundry. Mission Cantina, probably the city's most celebrated upscale taqueria, asks $6 for one taco. Even crazier is Empellón—a new taqueria from Alex Stupak, a pastry chef who has worked at molecular gastronomy palaces WD-50 and Alinea—which charges as much as $26 for two tacos.
Look, tacos are great, and I'm sure the ones at Mission Cantina and Empellón are excellent, but this is madness. Here is what happens when you order a $6 taco: The restaurant, surely acknowledging how absurd it is to be charging so much money for one taco, piles on the meat and the garnishes to the point that your taco is less a taco and more of an anthill on a corn tortilla.
At first this meat mound will seem justified, because you're paying $6 for something you could easily get for $2 at hundreds of other places in New York. But then you try to eat it. And eating a taco that is, by design, overflowing with contents is not a fun experience. The filling spills out of the shell, splattering all over your plate. You end up eating at least half of it with a fork.
When you are eating your taco with a fork, the whole point of a taco is lost.
But this is the deal you enter into when you pay $6 for a taco. The restaurant's guilt over its own price gouging doesn't even result in an enjoyable meal. You're left with the feeling that the price of the food is set first and the experience of eating the food comes second.
The solution to this is obvious and simple. Places like Tacombi should serve half the portion for half the price. A $3 taco that is easily consumed is a fair transaction in this day and age. So why don't these places make this change? Because Tacombi's menu explicitly suggests that you purchase three tacos, which essentially locks you into paying at least $15 before tip, especially if it's your first time there and you don't realize you'll probably be fine getting just two tacos.
This is bad business. Eating a taco should be light and fun and shouldn't cost too much money. It should be like those stock images of women laughing alone with salad, but in real life. There are restaurants that sell tacos but don't sell this experience, and they should be avoided.
[Image by Sam Woolley]