At Sexy Taco/Dirty Cash, the dishes are quick and easy, and have a sense of humor.
Over the past sixteen years, Brian Washington-Palmer has overseen the evolution of this corner of Malcolm X Boulevard, at 118th Street. First was Native, his long-standing and much beloved Caribbean-cum-Mediterranean spot. That was followed by La Bodega 47 Social Club, a trendy lounge that served about a hundred and fifty different types of rum. Then, after a renovation in 2015, Washington-Palmer announced that his restaurant would now serve “authentic San Francisco street food right in the heart of Harlem.” He rechristened it, too: “Sexy Taco” indicates that Northern Californian “street food” basically means Mexican; “Dirty Cash,” it seems, is a reference to some of the illicit business depicted in Claude McKay’s 1928 novel, “Home to Harlem.”
The new establishment reflects La Bodega’s lounge vibe, with high bar tables and a playlist that melds salsa and trip-hop. The décor is dominated by two giant pictures of scantily clad women. On the south wall, the subject, in a tight white shift, fiddles with a pink cocktail and gazes suggestively over her left shoulder. The suggestion is worthwhile: delicious frozen margaritas are served in three flavors from ice machines behind the bar and can be spiked with extra tequila for two dollars. “I’d go with the guava,” a waiter counselled. “Even though mango’s my favorite fruit.”