Lucky Tortilla's

lucky tortillas Qing and Gen Chen

Gen and Qing Chen, the owners of Lucky Tortilla's

When we heard about Lucky Tortilla's, a new taco joint on Washington in Albany, we had to know more because:

1. We're always up for a good taco.

2. The name and menu had the feel of a Chinese restaurant. And word was that the place was run by Asian people. Hmm... what sort of fusion could this be?

So, we checked it out. And as it happens, the story of Lucky Tortilla's is as American as quesadillas.

OK, here's the backstory. Qing and Gen Chen's family moved to New York City from China when they were kids. The siblings' father got a job in a Mexican restaurant there. After learning the cuisine on the job, their father and mother opened their own Mexican restaurant in NYC.

Fast forward a bit. Qing and Gen, now with experience in their family's restaurant, head off to college at UAlbany. And as if they don't have enough going on with school -- Qing's major is East Asian studies and Gen's is business -- they decide to open their own restaurant up here. Mexican, of course -- or Chinican, as Qing told us a customer recently described it.

The result: a cheap Mexican place. That's "cheap" as in the food doesn't cost much. But it's also "cheap" as in the sort of Mexican food. You know the kind -- simple tacos and other tortilla-based items, maybe a little heavy on the cheese. It's a genre of the cuisine that gets a bad rap in most parts of the country because of Taco Bell. But it can be quick, good and -- oh, yeah -- cheap.

lucky tortillas quesadilla
The chicken, black bean and cheese quesadilla constructed -- and deconstructed.

We had a handful of items when we visited this week. Here's the breakdown. All tacos were made with flour tortillas:

Black bean and cheese taco on a flour tortilla ($1.39)
This was fine -- just some black beans in a little bit of sauce with jack cheese. Pretty straightforward. Three of this would fill you up nicely for about four bucks.

Shrimp taco with guacamole ($2.69)
We probably wouldn't get this again because of the guac -- it tasted like the stuff that comes out of a tube.

Al carbon (beef) with guacamole ($2.35)
The beef was OK -- but, again, the guac not so much.

Quesadilla with chicken, black beans and cheese ($3.89)
This was good, in large part because of the chicken (photo above). They marinate dark meat, grill it (yes, there was actual char), and then nestle it with the black bean mixture and some jack cheese between two tortillas. Yum. A great snack for two people or super cheap (small) meal for one.

Based on this one visit, we'd look toward the chicken on future visits -- and stay away from the guacamole.

Is this the best Mexican food you'll ever have? No. Is it a great taco? No -- you can do better (and pay more) -- at Bros (tastier, more like an authentic tacqueria). But the black bean taco and the quesadilla at Lucky Tortilla's were good enough -- especially at those prices.

Lucky T's has been open three weeks now. It's in an old pizza joint at the corner of Washington and Lake. Qing and Gen haven't even posted a sign outside, yet.

Qing says they're still working out the hours. As of right now, she says they'll be opening in the afternoon and staying open into the night. That sounds like it might be a good schedule for them -- especially since we could see Lucky T's scoring with the hordes of hungry (somewhat cash poor) students in the nearby student ghetto.

If you decide to stop in, bring cash. They don't take credit cards.

(Thanks, Ethan!)

Find It

Lucky Tortilla's
453 Washington Ave
Albany, NY 12206

(518) 465-0878

Hours are changing. Your best is late afternoon into the evening.


I'll have to try this out because I'm still not sold on Bros. Have been twice and the first was one of the worst burritos I've ever had and the second time I went with tacos which were okay. What we really need is a Qdoba. Yeah, I said it.

A little (ok a lot) off topic but I've always wondered...what are the career prospects for a person with a degree in East Asian studies? I mean no harm or insult to anyone. I've just honestly always wondered where you go with a degree such as that.

No, what we really need is an Albany branch of Anna's Taqueria! (though unfortunately I doubt it'll ever open anywhere besides Boston)

@Emma I'd say you've got a better shot at a decent job with an East Asian Studies degree than a Philosophy degree, and the latter's much more common.

Was that a before or after shot of that quesadilla? Oy vey.

I wish there was a good place for Mexican street food in Albany! It's so delicious, and cheap and easy to make. I heard there may be a taqueria opening in Totem's old location, though. Did anybody else hear that?

I really, really miss Taco Pronto.
I'll have to check these guys out.

A nice ole' chipotle would be really nice. Very standard burrito, but has good quality ingredients and consistency is very McD like. Carnitas, yummmm

hey save pine hills.....i was in a Qdoba last week, telling my brother-in-law we had no Qdoba in Albany and guy behind counter said in 3 months, we will!!

No, its not cheap Mexican, but tasty sit down cheaper than its local alternatives, Aztecas on Central Ave and Lark. AMAZING!!! I went two weeks ago for the first time, and it was so fresh. I couldnt believe it, given the frozen outside.

There will be a Chipotle in Wilton very soon! I miss Taco Pronto because of the cheap eats. I do not miss the day long stay in the bathroom after eating there.

We need an el pollo loco, best quesadilla ive ever had.

Honestly... Moe's has delicious burritos. Not necessarily cheap ($6.99 for their most expensive burrito), but they certainly don't skimp on the ingredients, their burritos are probably a few pounds!


Moe's burritos are just plain bad, especially when you've had a burrito from Chipotle or Qdoba. Nasty rice, gritty meats... It's really an inferior product.

If a Chipotle (or even Qdoba) is coming to town, I'll be the happiest guy around.

Thank you for this story! I drive past the place every morning on my way to work and was wondering what was going on in there. I had assumed someone had just reopened as a crappy pizzeria, given that the old sign is still hanging out there. Glad to know it's cheap mex. I may just have to stop in there on the way back home one day!

Last year Metroland voted Casa Oaxaca (pronounced wu-ha-ka) best Mexican. They're a cheap little joint at Phillip and Madison. I've had the pleasure of stopping there once, and I enjoyed it very much. Metroland says:

"Intimate is the watchword here. Casual. Owner James Santaski and chef Francisco Vazquez, himself Oaxacan, offer a small but authentic menu of south-of-the-border specialties, the best of which is the superb mole, a labor-intensive puree of nuts and peppers finished with native chocolate."

@Emma: Hi. Welcome to 2009. It's a globalizing world out there.

East Asian studies grads are employed in a huge number of roles. East Asian studies are a great foundation for someone to add an MBA with an international combination to, and go make bank. East Asian studies are a great foundation for any number of jobs directly or tangentially related to Asia.

Surely you've heard of the Asian Tigers?

@Andrew: I understand the globalization on the world. As a student studying International Business, I really do understand that. However, I worked with a girl a few years ago who was majoring in East Asian studies and had no idea what she was going to do besides know how to speak Chinese.

Emma, check out the SUNYA website. They have profiles of some students who have graduated from the various majors programs, and what they went on to do, it should help at least partially answer your question.

@Emma: And I've worked with Int'l Biz students who couldn't point out China on a map. So what? There are plenty of idiots in this world, an education is what you make of it, and for some, an education isn't necessary to succeed at all.

to all concerned w/ East Asian Studies career options:

does it matter at all what your major in undergrad is? all decent jobs require graduate degrees of one kind or another. the bachelor's degree is the new (?) high school diploma. get used to it.

@ 'jandro: Well said, and it's unfortunate. Though there are still some really specific majors that can land you a pretty good job right out of college. New media/design comes to mind.

For what it's worth, Kirsten Gillibrand was an Asian Studies major at Dartmouth. That seems to have worked out OK for her.

I can't believe the attention given to non authentic Mexican restaurants and chains when there is truly an authentic Mexican restaurant owned and operated by a Mexican right here in Albany. Casa Oaxaca is a restaurant that focuses it's food on being true to its origins. The mole sauce is without a doubt incredible. The menu has expanded to contain several vegetarian options that are authentic and very satisfying. The portions are satisfying and very inexpensive. The most expensive dish is 10.75 and worth every penny. Around for almost 2 yrs this place is a hidden treasure.

I think this is the best burrito place ever!I would recommand anyone to try it out

This morning when I drove by I noticed that they had finally gotten a real sign! Then I noticed the orange "Stop Work" order taped to the door. Oh well!

The Shop is now running and my friends told me they serve great burritos.

My friends and I love their food! We've been to most mexican restaurants in Albany and we all decided this is the best place to go to. Now we are their regular customers.

You people complain too much.These are good friendly people who are never rude and always aim to please their customers.They food is good especially the chicken.The prices are also good and they do something none of those other places do THEY DELIVIER TO ALL OF ALBANY LATE INTO THE NIGHT not just your crappy student friendly neighborhoods.This place has been going strong since it opened and i for one am a loyal customer.For all you idiots advertising how about you look up how many health violations Bros has had.Thats a menu in itself.Best mexican resturant is El Marachi but this is the best after 6pm

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