Dos Toros Taqueria: The best street food in New York
New Yorkers are discerning, dollar-savvy, and admittedly, spoiled. For this reason (and a host of other risk factors), the majority of New York restaurants close within a year or two of opening. So how did Dos Toros Taqueria — now with 13 locations across the Big Apple — become the Mexican restaurant of choice for NYC foodies? The answer lies with Dos Toros’ proprietors, Leo and Oliver Kremer, two jovial brothers from Berkeley, CA, whose laser-focus on detail, compact menu aspirations, and location savvy have served them well. We caught up with Leo and Oliver to talk about Dos Toros and find out where the brothers go for the best street food in New York.
‘We’ve put ourselves in the most visibly foot-trafficked, yet still groovy locations,’ says Leo. ‘We’re our own customer, meaning we love burritos more than anything and want a certain level of finish, aesthetic, and service. So we’ve opened up in places where we might plausibly find ourselves.’ Those locales include Union Square, the West Village, the Upper East Side, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. ‘While very special, burritos are essentially a convenience food,’ says Oliver. ‘We didn’t want our customers to have a hard time finding us.’
Special, for sure. Dos Toros — reviewed favourably by The New York Times, featured on the cover of Food & Wine, and frequently highlighted in Manhattan’s top dining columns — creates generously portioned, meticulously made burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and salad plates at a reasonable price point. ‘We just want to make really good burritos over and over,’ Leo insists. ‘We’re the Dennis Rodman of burritos! We just want rebounds.’ They melt cheese onto their tortillas to keep the burritos warm and create a landing pad for ingredients. Their fluffy red rice is authentic and easy to flub, which is why larger chain eateries favour white rice, prepped in a rice-cooker. Dos Toros salsas and hot sauces are handmade every day, in-store and from scratch. ‘We have about nine recipes, each of which could potentially be prepared in 50 to 100 different ways,’ notes Oliver.
The stores feel surfy, minus any California kitsch. Their tables, chairs, and trim are all made from reclaimed and sustainable wood, while reclaimed tin provides the shine. The guys’ commitment to sustainability is one on a list of reasons to like the place. ‘Anyone can open a restaurant,’ says Leo. ‘You just have to have capitol for that. But you can’t force anyone to eat at that restaurant.’ Oliver adds, ‘We found a sweet spot with the Dos Toros concept. A lot of corners could have been cut, and since we don’t do that, it comes out really delicious.’
Their parents, entrepreneurs themselves, provided the boys with a firm foundation. Years earlier, when they noticed that the kind of unsullied burritos they grew up with were nearly impossible to find in NYC, Leo and Oliver overlooked their lack of kitchen experience and poured themselves whole-heartedly into the dream. ‘We kept thinking that someone else was going to do this idea and crush it,’ Leo says. ‘So we cooked this big Mexican feast for 25 of our family members and friends, to see if we had what it took,’ continues Oliver. ‘One of our family friends said it was the best Mexican food he’d ever had. We knew that if someone was doing in New York the kind of food we were eating in Berkeley, it would do very well.’
The success of the Kremer brothers is more than a case of “California boys make good in the big, bad city.” It’s a tale of smart entrepreneurship. They borrowed the philosophy “hire based on personality, because skills can be taught,” from pioneering restaurateur Danny Meyer (whose Union Square Hospitality Group includes the Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, and Shake Shack.) They’ve made sure the foundation of the business has been firm before expanding, and respect the practical desires of on-the-go city-dwellers. Meanwhile, they talk out their issues with their contemporaries, fellow food innovators like the owners behind The Meatball Shop, Chopt, and Luke’s Lobster, whom they now consider close friends. ‘We’re all getting creative within tight constraints,’ insists Leo. ‘It feels like being part of the Silicon Valley start-up community. We’re all doing things the slow way.’
Leo and Oliver’s favourite street food contemporaries:
Luke’s Lobster: ‘It’s best-in-class’, says Oliver. ‘If I’m going to get a Lobster Roll, I’m going to Luke’s.’
The Meatball Shop: ‘They opened around the same time we did,’ says Leo. ‘They came with a new idea that luxury is simplicity. There’s a couple of different offerings, the aesthetic is super hip, the employees are cool, and there’s value.’
Num Pang: This Cambodian sandwich shop ‘keeps it straightforward and affordable, and is just great,’ says Oliver.
Chopt: ‘They know what they’re doing and the product is fantastic,’ says Leo.
The food concepts at flea market spaces such as Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: ‘It’s a great opportunity for aspiring chefs to show what they’ve got,’ says Leo. ‘The only setback can be the long lines.’
Hudson Eats at Brookfield Place (which houses a Dos Toros): ‘It’s comfortable and higher-end,’ says Oliver. ‘It’s where things are going.’
Sushi Dojo: ‘I love David Bouhadana’s sushi,’ says Oliver. ‘I think it’s my favourite in town.’
The Momofuku restaurants: ‘They’ve been covered a lot but they’re just awesome,’ says Leo.
Written by Andrew Stone