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Otto’s Tacos Conquers NYC

It’s a warm summer day in New York and I’m scarfing down shrimp tacos with serrano crema and masa fries at Otto’s Tacos. Owner Otto Cedeno walks me through a masa fry. House-made masa (ground corn dough) is rolled out onto slabs, cut into strips about the size of a pinkie finger, and then deep-fried. The result is like a robust In-N-Out fry, “but better,” adds Cedeno, especially once dipped in chipotle mayo, Chef Joe LoNigro’s bread and butter. “It’s addictive. I’m just going to make sure this one isn’t poisoned,” jokes Cedeno, as he samples a fry.

Otto’s has been open ten months and has fierce taco competition. Though New York Mexican food takes a lot of negative heat, some heavy hitters have recently entered the ring. April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig opened Salvation Taco, Alex Stupak of Empellón Cocina is opening a casual al pastorstyle taqueria, Danny Mena debuted Sembrado last year, and Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese opened Mission Cantina after an extensive taste testing in Mexico. Collectively, they are changing the taco consciousness in the Big Apple. No longer are New Yorkers settling for lackluster fillings and stale, store-bought tortillas. Like its competition, Otto’s Tacos is trying to establish a stronghold in this select but growing list of tastemakers.

Cedeno grew up in Southern California, the son of Nicaraguan and Ecuadorian parents, eating his parents’ traditional cooking, platanos maduros and sopa con pollo. He also grew up eating LA-style street tacos from carts and take-out windows whenever he could get his hands on them. “I loved food,” he says, “I love it more now, but I’ve learned about self-control. And the gym.”

After graduating from NYU in 2007 with a degree in filmmaking, he made ends meet as a freelance producer despite the recession. A couple of years ago, looking for his next move, he considered business school. But Cedeno thought to himself, “Man, wouldn’t it be fun to have a taco place? A modern brand but a very traditionally-rooted menu with the best tacos you’ve ever had made from scratch?” The thought turned into an idea, the idea into a plan.

Next, Otto's Tacos opens for business...

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