Tacos Beto is not a pretty place. Stacks of soda bottles, enough for weeks to come, serve as a wall that shields customers from the wind blowing down Avenida Dr. José María Vertiz. The plastic tables and plastic stools that surround the bottles seem older than the invention of plastic.
A long, dusty awning hanging above the sidewalk seating advertises a brand of soda that Tacos Beto no longer carries, maybe never carried. The only visible beauty encountered at the restaurant sits on the arched wall above the steel fryer, or comal bola – orange and blue paint spell out the words “Tacos Beto – los de cochinada” (“Tacos Beto – the garbage ones”).
Diners at Tacos Beto dress down to visit the restaurant. Ugly windbreakers. Floppy hats. Sweat pants. It’s the wardrobe selection of those who have hastily thrown on whatever they could find on their bedroom floor to answer the front door on a lazy weekend morning. Yet, as they await their food, they smile wide at each other, rubbing their hands in anticipation.
The name of the famous tacos at Tacos Beto is a play on words. Cochinita is a type of Yucatecan pulled pork dish, while cochinada literally means “filth” or “garbage.” The cochinada here is composed of the leavings of other meats deep fried over hours in the circular ravine that catches runoff from the raised center of the comal bola. Eating one of these tacos is like taking a step closer to heaven, in that the flavors are celestial. Also in that that you can feel your heart dying a little bit with each cholesterol-packed bite.
The cochi can be ordered as a taco topping. The most popular order here is the campechano con cochi. Campechano tacos differ from taquería to taquería. At Tacos Beto, they come with all available meat, sans pastor: bistek, longaniza and suadero, mixed with diced onions and cilantro. The cochi itself covers the mess of meat like a glistening black salsa and can be likened texturally to broken tortilla chips. This crunch compliments the soft surrender of the barely grilled corn tortillas and the medium resistance of hot meat. The black substance itself tastes like a savory, deep-fried charcoal – in the best possible way.
Heriberto García Flores, or Don Beto, the man who lent his name and genius to the creation of his eponymous restaurant, started the taquería in 1965, but it wasn’t until 1973 that he began serving the cochinada tacos that, according to Beto, “brought all the fame.”
“I didn’t know what to do with all the stuff at the bottom of the comal,” Beto told us. “So I started serving it on tacos.” Beto claims that initially the substance had no name, and it was his customers who began referring to it variously as basura (trash), porqueria (filth) and, finally, cochinada.
His customers undoubtedly gave cochi its derogatory name because they knew that while it tasted delicious, it was very bad for one’s health. Until meeting the restaurant’s proprietor, we assumed the same. However, Don Beto, a 70-year-old who looks and moves like a man 20 years his junior, has eaten three tacos of cochi every day since he invented the tacos 43 years ago. His sons and grandsons, who work alongside him, were raised on the same diet. And the only difference we noticed in Don Beto and the other employees at Tacos Beto, the greatest purveyors and eaters of cochi, was a warmth of spirit, a wideness of smile.
We suppose if we ate cochi tacos every day for four decades straight and lived to tell the tale, we’d be in a good mood, too.
Editor’s note: As we get ready for a deep dive into Queens’ taco scene, we thought it was worthwhile to rerun this piece from January 2017.
Address: Dr. José María Vertiz 1028, Colonia Narvarte No phone Hours: Mon.-Fri. 7pm-4am
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