Curb Your Enthusiasm
Dining out is one of our purer expressions of desire: the transformation of mere sustenance into something worth paying for and obsessing over. Which is why I’ve always thought that restaurants can reveal, in a more visceral way than books or movies or even Lady Gaga, what we crave as a culture.
I recalled this theory recently during a disorienting lunch at Street in L.A. Like a growing number of restaurants nationwide, Street turns the tables on last year’s fancy-food-truck trend by rounding up humble treats from Beijing’s hutongs and Mexico City’s callejones, and repositioning them in a gourmet restaurant, complete with silverware and toilets. It’s street snacking as a fine-dining concept.
At Street, your receipt reads like a travelogue. After touching down in Mumbai (paani puri), Singapore (Kaya toast), Kuala Lumpur (black-pepper clams), and Kiev (varenyky dumplings), I returned to Los Angeles (Kobe beef chili dogs) with the gastrointestinal equivalent of jet lag. The globe-trotting menu at G Street Food in Washington, D.C., is nearly as encyclopedic. Chicago’s Wave hosts a rotating selection of international food carts every Wednesday. Pedigreed eateries specializing in the street snacks of Mexico City have earned raves in Philadelphia (Distrito), Chicago (Xoco), and New York (La Superior, La Lucha, Cascabel). There are artisanal hot dogs in Brooklyn (Bark), lavish Cambodian sandwiches on the Lower East Side (The Norry), and highfalutin French-Vietnamese noodles at the new Momofuku spot, Má Pêche, inside Manhattan’s ritzy Chambers Hotel, which is about as far from eating on the street as you can get.
Some of what this fad says about our society is flattering. For decades, restaurants have responded to recessions by offering their customers gussied-up versions of comfort food, like $19 burgers. But street food challenges rather than comforts American palates, and its rise vindicates the culinary values of authenticity and adventurousness—both among chefs, who are now feted for cooking the weird stuff they’ve always loved to eat, and among diners, who, after watching guys like Anthony Bourdain scarf down sup tulang on TV, have finally summoned the cojones to try some themselves.
But the trend also hints at something distressing about our mindset. A few days before visiting Street, I led a group of friends to a food truck called Antojitos de la Abuelita, where we dined under a red curbside tent on huitlacoche and caldo de gallina while the owners helped us suss out what exactly we were eating. For adherents, the experience of eating on the street—often in an unfamiliar part of town, or the world, where interacting with the cook and community is unavoidable—is as much a part of the street-food recipe as tortillas and tongue meat. It’s not just that noshing at places like Antojitos de la Abuelita will always make more economic sense than spending twice as much at Street, and that, in a recession, real street vendors arguably need our money more than the restaurateurs who repurpose their recipes. It’s that a simulation isn’t sufficient. The deeper hunger that’s driving the street-food trend—the desire to reach out and connect with a globalized world that we’re more aware of and reliant on than ever—is worth celebrating. But ultimately, that kind of craving will be satisfied only if places like Street inspire us to undertake the tricky work of actually engaging with other cultures—and not if they serve merely as safe, trendy substitutes for the real thing.
El mexicano top en ny
La Superior es un pequeño restorán de grandes sabores mexicanos en Nueva York. Incluido en la guía Michelin 2010 y nombrado el mejor restorán mexicano de la ciudad por la revista L Magazine, sus baratos platos (desde 2,5 hasta 13 dólares) mantienen el sabor tradicional. 295 Berry St., al llegar a 2nd St., Williamsburg; tel. 718-388-5988.
One of the worst things about eating Mexican food in LA is coming back and eating it in New York. The New York version of Mexican food is almost sure to disappoint after you’ve had the vibrant, spicy food at a random hole-in-the-wall in an LA strip mall. Even the most successful NYC Mexican restaurants don’t source traditional ingredients like goat, and they get the cheese all wrong – Vermont cheddar is surely not a staple south of the border. Most Mexican food in New York is what Italian food was here in the mid-’80s: dumbed-down Mexican-American, not authentic Mexican.
That’s why it was such a relief to discover La Superior in Williamsburg after reading Pete Wells’ $25-and-under review. As soon as the first dishes landed, we knew: they got the cheese right.
La Superior’s requesón is a mild but cheesy cheese, fresh, with the consistency of a crumbly cottage cheese. Though it’s said you can use ricotta as a substitute, I don’t find the taste the same at all. (One close flavor you can sometimes find is Mexican Cotija cheese – not at high-end cheese stores, but at corner bodegas.) Here it is sprinkled on top of the flautas de pollo, which were very crisp and topped with bright, fresh greens and salsa that contrasted with the creaminess of the cheese.
Gorditas, typical Mexican street fare, are highly addictive little corn buns, split and stuffed with chorizo, lettuce, and more requesón. La Superior’s taste a little like huitlacoche, the surprisingly tasty weird corn fungus. If you want to spice up the gorditas some more, the green salsa served alongside does the trick.
The quesadillas also come street-style, more like heftier empanadas than a mere fried tortilla. But for me this amount of bread overwhelmed the filling.
Their tacos are amazing little delights, each one a separate burst of flavor. (This too is where so many other NYC Mexican places get it wrong – all Mexican dishes shouldn’t taste the same.) Clockwise from top, these are the camarón al chipotle (very spicy shrimp tacos), the carne asada (smoky grilled skirt steak), the carnitas (pork confit topped with sweet white onion), and the phenomenal rajas, roasted poblano pepper strips cooked with that fabulous cheese. This was a really intriguing combination. Usually you think of a creamy cheese as something to quell the spiciness of pepper, but when they’re cooked together, the cheese has the effect of drawing it out.
Alas, there may be a shortage of authentic Mexican food in New York, but if you can locate Cotija cheese, here’s a recipe for a Mexican salad for you. But if you’re going to La Superior, here’s your strategy:
- Arrive early (7-ish). If there’s a wait, you’ll have to wait in line – they don’t take cell phone numbers.
- BYOB! There’s a bodega around the corner with a good selection of beer.
- Prices are crazy cheap.
- Their idea of “decor” is a single string of colored lights. You’re not here for the romance.
- It’s much easier to get a table on busy nights as a party of two than as a larger party.
Inspired by traditional cantinas serving comida corrida, or “fast food”, Mexican street food eatery La Superior in Williamsburg delivers Mexican standards like tacos and chicken enchiladas, and lesser known delicacies like salpicon shredded beef salad from the Yucatan, and cameron pibil, marinated shrimp over plantains and wrapped in a banana leaf. The food lives up to its boastful name but it’s the down-home neighborhood appeal and low prices that keep it lively. Regulars include Mexico City transplants, Williamsburg artists, and downtown Manhattanites looking for a true Mexican fix. Co-owners behind this festive space like to keep their recipes rich, their décor minimal, and their clientele coming back for more. That’s not to say that designer details go remiss. Check out the hand-blown light fixtures, the custom screened wallpaper, the kitschy plastic table wear — all imported from Mexico, just like the chef. A liquor license for beer, tequila, and margaritas is forthcoming.
Runners-up to Our 10 Best Williamsburg Restaurants
Doner (Turkish), 189 Bedford Avenue, 718-218-7900; La Superior (Mexican), 295 Berry Street, 718-388-5988; El Almacen (Argentinian), 557 Driggs Avenue, 718-218-7284; Saltie (new wave sandwiches), 378 Metropolitan Avenue, 718-387-4777; Fanny (American bistro), 425 Graham Avenue, 718-389-2060; Dressler (American bistro), 149 Broadway, 718-384-6343; Cono & Sons (Italian-American), 301 Graham Avenue, 718-388-0168; DuMont (American bistro), 432 Union Avenue, 718-486-7717; Diner (updated diner), 85 Broadway, 718-486-3077; Gottlieb Restaurant (kosher deli), 352 Roebling Street, 718-384-6612; Bamonte’s (Italian-American), 32 Withers Street, 718-384-8831; Radegast Beer Hall (Czech-German), 113 North 3rd Street, 718-963-3973; Raymond’s Place (Polish), 124 Bedford Avenue, 718-388-4200, Taco Santana (Mexican), 301 Keap Street, 718-388-8761; Juliette, 135 North 5th Street, 718-388-9222
Ah Williamsburg, I love you and I hate you, but at the suggestion of some of you readers to try this place, I finally did. I walked in just in time for lunch, getting there before the predominately hipster crowd arrived, and grabbed a seat at the counter.
What can I tell you that NY Mag and Yelp haven’t already done so… It’s a good date place, the ambiance is good, and they spin records. It’s a good taco spot in a hip setting. They serve tiny tacos for $2.50, and I easily wolfed down FIVE! What can I say I was hungies. The carne asado tacos… good, the carnitas… good, and the lengua tacos were also good (although I am impartial to my homemade ones). Their salsa is excellent and they are not cheap about giving you extra. I wonder if they need an intern, you know like as a tester before the food goes out?
This place is cash only and there’s an ATM machine conveniently located right outside. Take the L train to Bedford Ave. or J,M,Z to Marcy Ave.
I would like to know what ya’ll think?
NOSH YOURSELF TO NIRVANA
295 Berry St., Williamsburg
La Superior is arguably the best Mexican restaurant on the East Coast. Their guacamole is green super-crack that makes you not want to share, and if you’re like me and you already dislike sharing—it gets ugly. The tacos are so good that before eating them I have to tape up my head because I’m afraid it will explode from yummy. Try the camarón al chipotle tacos and the rajas. Absolutely unbeatable. They do a few interesting traditional dishes here too, including a sesadilla pork-brain quesadilla, which may sound gnarly but is utterly off-the-planet delicious. You can’t choose the wrong thing at La Superior, it’s all excellent, and it’s all really cheap, like 1993 cheap. If you visit La Superior and don’t fall in love with the place, then… I don’t know, maybe you’re not capable of loving at all. Sorry.
This no-frills Williamsburg joint serves up some serious Mexican street food—think sesadillas (that is, pork brain quesadillas, $3), gorditas de chorizo con papas (corn masa cakes stuffed with meat and potatoes, $5), and deliciously creamy ezquites (a little pots of corn kernels with fresh cheese, lime, and mayo, $5). The tasty tacos are priced at $2.50, and the brunch-time egg, bean, and tortilla combinations offer reliable hangover helpers.
On Berry st. in south Williamsburg there is a tan and red brick building with one door, one window, and the hand painted name La Superior, a shout out to the late popular Mexican beer. This is the first indication that this restaurant is not only Mexican and hard-core, it’s also street.
The food falls right into that category. Crispy Golden Flautas, Chorizo Gorditas, all kinds of tacos, (the spicy shrimp being my favorite), street style quesadillas, and cactus salad! Which is so good for you and rarely ever seen.
This tiny restaurant is already a hit with lines out the door on weekends. They don’t serve any alcohol yet, and there is no telling what the situation is with their liquor licence since they have started the process so late in the game.
South Williamsburg is a great place to smoke, but stay on the west side of Berry st. down towards the water. If you go out early enough you can hit up the park at the end of Grand st. and watch the sun disappear behind Manhattan.
I give La Superior: