When you feel like New York is beating you up, there’s nothing to put you back on your feet like a good plate of Mexican comida casera. Here, Franziska “Pinche Panchita” Castillo and Ramiro “El Chaparrito Más Chingón” Valle have run all around the city to find the best homecooked, homestyle, homie-approved mex-food spots…ok they didn’t go to Brooklyn or the Bronx como gas is expensive and they were rolling in a low-mileage jipeta…but besides that these two were thorough. They left no taco uneaten in their quest for the best. So here, in their own words, is their somewhat biased, but totally accurate restaurant roundup:
Beky’s Bakery and Coffee Shop
103rd Street between 37th and 39th Avenue, Corona, Qüins.
Full disclosure: We used to work with this restaurant’s owner, Fernando, in a fresota Argentinean restaurant. But hey, that means we trust his cooking. Plus he wakes up daily at 5 am along with his whole extended family to bake tasty, pillowy rolls in the back of this small, cozy fondita. He makes cool gelatina flowers too (check out the pics—we are still trying to figure out how he does it.) Our definite favorites: las gorditas and los chilaquiles. Every day, there’s a different guisado casero—such as albóndigas en chipotle, chicken pipián, or mixiotes. No menu, so just ask.
There are only five tables in the whole place so you may find yourself sharing your mesa with strangers. But that makes it more homey, right? Our only complaints…Fernando, bota esas galletas de crismas ya! Y esos jugos naturales de $4.50, qué te crees, que estamos en el pinche Soho?! And unless you’re us…you can’t use the bathroom. Other than that, we give it a resounding two thumbs up!
Food: cinco estrellas!
Atmosphere: four nopales for having posters of Colombia in a Mexican restaurant.
Price: $$—nice and cheap “if you don’t eat so much like Panchita,” says Ramiro.
Tulcingo Deli and Restaurant
40-36 National St.(same as 103rd Street, just off Roosevelt), Corona, Qüins
This is a construction worker kind-of-place, with big portions and good prices. Most of the food is poblano, but there are some dishes from Veracruz too. A good pick is the mole al estilo Tulcingo, a soup with lots of verduras and carne de res, excellent for soothing a cold or a hangover. Equally helpful in that department are the chilaquiles: “Picosos como la chingada, but they’re good for sweating out all the alcohol,” says Ramiro. The cook recommends the camarones veracruzana…but considering these are the most expensive thing on the menu, you’d do just as well to stuff yourself with the yummy tacos al pastor at $2 a pop (in case you don’t know, these are made from hacked-off bits of a big hunk of pork on a spit.) Also, if you’re feeling generous, we have it on good authority that all the money placed into the Virgen de Guadalupe box in the corner makes it straight to Tulcingo, where it pays for church repairs and other good deeds (full disclosure again: Ramiro’s cousin used to waitress here, asi que sabemos.).
Food: 3.5 estrellas
Atmosphere: five nopales—we like the jukebox! And the big moose heads are cool too.
Price: $$$ pretty cheap, and lots of food
Taqueria y Fonda Mexicana
968 Amsterdam Avenue near 107th Street Manjátan
Our verdict: barato y bueno, especially for the area. Actually, they give you too much food most of the time—the giant burritos are about the right size for a hungry pony, and a single taco will stuff you. We really like the salmon tacos, the quesadillas (they come with a bunch of salad on top, so if you don’t like that, let them know), the chiles en nogada…. everything is good. The jukebox also receives our thumbs-up with its many Vicente Fernandez and Tigres del Norte albums. And after just a few visits, the owner will know your name and greet you as if you’re a VIP: Pretty chido. One caveat: if you come on the weekend, you may have to wait, since this place is really popular with Columbia students. You may also be subjected to loud, intense intellectual discussions by the same, which kind of tumba la nota, if you know what I mean. But still, we like it.
Food: cuatro estrellas
Atmosphere: four nopales—cool music but freezing cold in the winter. Y mucho pinche humo cuando hacen la carne!
Price: $ craaazy cheap.
Tulcingo Deli (same name, different restaurant.)
47th St and Tenth Avenue, Manjátan
Another little spot created by those enterprising Tulcinguenses. The restaurant shares space with a small grocery store, so after you eat, pick up some dulces. The food is good nice solid poblano cuisine, the kind of stuff your mother would make. Our picks: the caldo de camarón is good here, as is the bistec en salsa verde con verdolagas. Warning: to get to the bathroom, you have to go outside. Better to wait until the warm weather hits to come here!
Food: cuatro estrellas
Atmosphere: three nopales for being kind of cramped.
Price: $$$ medium cheap
El Paso Taqueria
Lexington Ave and 104th St. Manjátan
This is more of a real restaurant than a fonda. It has actual décor, a website, and a menu that does not have sticky stuff stuck to it. Yet, the prices are good, and the food is practically excellent. Try the square tamales oaxaquenos, las chalupas, and the mole. They have nice carrot juice too. Cool diverse crowd. The waitresses forget stuff a lot, but come on, nobody’s perfect! This is a favorite place to come after playing fútbol in Central Park or visiting el Museo del Barrio.
Food: 4, or is it 5 estrellas? (we can’t agree!)
Atmosphere: 3 nopales, just watch out in the summer when 104th street se pone más candela…
Price: $$ very cheap for the quality
Café El Portal
174 Elizabeth St, between Kenmare St & Spring St, Manjátan
This basement restaurant tries to pass itself off as super authentic Mexican…and actually, when I first found it, I kind of liked it. Really nice bartender, good micheladas, and I liked the quesadillas de flor de calabaza. But then after a few visits, I noticed that we never got any tortilla chips, while the other patrons (puros yuppies) had heaps of them. We waited semanas for our food. Our requests to have less-than-boiling champurrado for m’ija was met with “That’s not possible.” At last it dawned on me. This is a place where nacos and Spanish-speakers are not welcome! It’s necessary to be a Miu-Miu wearing gabacha to get good service here. So, cool bartender notwithstanding, we give this place, and its overpriced food, two big thumbs down.
Food: two estrellas
Atmosphere: one nopal solamente, for the waitress who’s más pesá’ que el Diablo
Price: $$$$ you would think you’re in Tokyo, coño!
As for the rest of the city…well, we hear La Taquería in Park Slope and Moctezuma in the Bronx are both good. Check them out and let us know!