Where could I go to have a Negra Modelo and a perfect, unexpected dish to accompany it? Easy: Stay in my hometown of New York, and stick with Mexican restaurants.
Mexican cuisine is exploding around New York, but more often than not New York’s Mexican restaurants overlook the quality of the most important ingredient: the corn. But for this tour of New York’s best Mexican food, I started from the tortilla up. I reached out to Masienda, New York’s only distributor of single-origin Mexican corn. All of their corn comes from Oaxaca. I also checked in with Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona, Queens. I followed the corn.
My tour started with a Sunday morning walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Gran Eléctrica, in Brooklyn Heights, where Mexican cuisine meets local ingredients. I ordered the cemita poblana. When I lived in Puebla, this was a deep-fried and breaded pork sandwich topped with stringy quesillo cheese, floral pápalo, onion, and spicy chiles. Gran Eléctrica has a modern take on this Mexican cheeseburger, which to be frank is closer to a sloppy joe than a cemita poblana, but it’s nevertheless delicious. My Negra Modelo worked particularly well with this sandwich, the hops and effervescence in the lager helping to cut through the fatty mouthfeel of the beefy, cheesy sandwich.
Monday, I visited Casa Enrique, in Long Island City, the only Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant in New York. The meal started off with savory aguachile margaritas, chunky guacamole, tostadas de jaiba — blue crab atop crispy deep-fried tortillas — and rajas con crema, or poblano peppers stewed with corn and heavy cream. The show-stopper was the mole poblano — an unbelievably balanced Pueblan mole that straddled the line between sweet and savory, carried by the heat from variety of chiles. This rich sauce blanketed moist, deeply flavored chicken thigh. I ordered it with another Negra Modelo, and the beer’s caramel malts were the perfect complement to the dried fruit in the mole. This was the highlight dish of the week for me.
I stopped by Rosie’s for a snack on Tuesday. It’s an East Village spot that’s one of the newest places to find Masienda corn. I ordered their quesadillas. Great corn is what makes spectacular quesadillas, and these were excellent. I also ordered an aguachile de callo de hacha, diver scallop cured in lime, chile, and salt, to snack on with a Negra Modelo. The beer was ice cold, playing perfectly with the heat of the chiles. The last dish was a memelita de champiñón, thick blue corn masa toasted on the comal, and topped with mushrooms and cheese.
Later that night I visited Cosme, in the Flatiron district, where chefs Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Ines are arguably the best thing to happen to New York’s Mexican food scene in the last decade. Cosme serves modern Mexican, where dishes may not look like familiar Mexican cuisine but the flavors are undeniably Mexican. The beef tongue with ant and coffee oil paired nicely with the bitterness on the finish from the hops in the Negra Modelo, helping to balance out the creaminess of the thinly sliced beef tongue. We also snacked on a sweet and salty sea urchin tostada, probably my favorite dish on the menu. The Negra Modelo lasted through dessert, where those hints of caramel paired nicely with the burnt corn husk meringue.
Finally, the next night, I stopped by Fonda, in its original location in Park Slope. Fonda has been around for awhile, but only recently revamped its masa program by using Masienda-supplied Oaxacan corn. I kept it simple for the last meal, and entirely vegetarian, a poblano pepper stuffed with queso oaxaca and squash covered in tomato sauce. I paired this with a Negra Modelo to help bring out the sweetness of the chile and to temper the heat.
Mexican food in New York is only getting better. But that was a great few days of eating.