Around Brooklyn, Street-Style Mexican Bites
Published on Monday, September 29, 2008, by Mark Hokoda
La Superior, open since August, has quickly become a Williamsburg hot spot for street-style Mexican antojitos. Hounds say tacos are authentic and fresh; carnitas (braised pork) and cochinita pibil (slow-roasted marinated pork) are especially tasty. Also recommended: flautas, gorditas, guacamole, and cactus salad.
“It’s excellent,” promises kbnyca, who singles out the chicken tinga filling for tacos and quesadillas, a standout pulled-meat stew with a thumping chipotle kick. She gives it the edge over the neighborhood competition, Bonita, a block east: “It’s better priced, more consistent, and the chicken is MUCH better-tasting.”
A few blocks away is Taco Santana, already on hound radar for its namesake tacos. chompchomp was unmoved by the tacos (no match for her Brooklyn go-to spot, El Encanto Mexicano) but knocked out by the chilaquiles with chicken tinga. Stewed marinated chicken with peppers, onions, and tomatoes is ladled over fresh-fried tortilla pieces and topped with a complex, fiery green sauce and a sprinkling of queso fresco—“the most mind-blowing, delicious food I’ve had in a long time,” she swears.
Speaking of street Mexican, the guys behind the Calexico carts in Manhattan are going brick-and-mortar in Brooklyn. They plan to open a restaurant in October in the Carroll Gardens storefront where Schnäck once hawked hot dogs and burgers. Calexico’s carts in SoHo and Gramercy peddle hound-endorsed Cal-Mex burritos and tacos, which the owners previewed for Brooklynites on a recent Saturday. Carne asada and black bean tacos were both delicious, reports Puppimus—“Very excited about this!”
Today the magazine outs an undersung charmer, La Superior (a spartan taqueria that deserves its name thanks to its gorditas, quesadillas, and a carnitas sandwich that may be the city’s first “Mexican French Dip”), as well as bringing some much-awaited details on a few projects we’ve been obsessing over. Finally, we get a look into the kitchen and wine cellar of Café Select — it’ll open for lunch this week with what might be the city’s first Alpine wine list, and a modern Swiss menu by Jo Herde. Likewise, we’ve puzzled over Five Leaves’ lovely interior and its association with Heath Ledger, but Rob and Robin reveal that a Prune alum is at work in the kitchen. Hard details, also, on that Brooklyn whiskey bar, Char No. 4, and on the much-awaited Italian mozzarella bar, Obikà. And news of Double Crown’s “inner sanctum,” a wine and cocktail bar called Madame Geneva.
The Robs also find time to pick out their favorite BLTs, and match the list with a recipe from Tien Ho of Momofuku Ssäm. Should you want to add cheese to the latter, there’s also a rundown of domestic (and local) purveyors of mozzarella di bufala and burrata. Just don’t count on Jefferson Market to carry it — an Intel item reveals that the store is cash-strapped and can’t afford to restock items. But here’s some good news: The Four Seasons is starting breakfast service in January, and Gael Greene uncovers the “best paella” in memory at Socarrat Paella Bar.
To say La Superior is understated is an understatement. “Do you think this is it?” a friend said nervously. We were standing outside a dingy storefront on an empty street in Williamsburg. “It must be,” I answered cheerily. “I need a cocktail,” she grumbled as she followed me through the door.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license. The dining room at La Superior looks like a diner on its last legs. The table settings are disposable - red and blue plastic plates, flimsy plastic cups, and supermarket napkins in plastic napkin holders that might’ve been stolen from a Midwest Sunday dinner.
Our waiter Danny - who is also the bartender - handed us two menus. “This is the real one and that’s a photocopy,” he grumbled. “We had problems with the printer.” Both were illegible, salsa-stained sheets of paper. The only words we could make out were guacamole, tacos and calle - in other words, street food. Luckily, that’s all you need to know.
We started with the guacamole. What most restaurants serve has no more taste than green sour cream. But this is more like avocado ceviche - diced onions and tomatoes, cilantro, and Haas avocados from Michoacán, Mexico. It tasted unbelievably fresh, as if it had been made two seconds before it reached the table.
The tortilla chips are just as good. And the quesadilla might be the best five bucks you can spend on food. Especially the mushroom quesadilla crowned with a flurry of Oaxaca cheese and Mexican crema. I ordered the enchiladas suizas - so-called because the topping supposedly looks like the Swiss Alps. It really resembles gentle swells in a tomatillo sea and it tastes like the Mexican equivalent of béchamel sauce.
The pork taco isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s actually pork confit accented with a hint of orange. The shrimp tacos are ablaze in a fiery chipotle sauce. I advise pairing either of these with the cactus tacos, which are filled coarse, cool pieces of nopal cactus topped with aged cheese. La Superior also serves an off-the-cob side of corn in a plastic cup - a savory parfait layered with Oaxaca cheese and homemade mayonnaise.
For now, bring your own tequila. Danny will mix it with agua de limo - made with boiled limes, skin and all - or a berry red juice made from prickly pear. This is sublime Mexican street food with the luxury of a roof and a scattering of small tables.
The no-frills Williamsburg building with the plain façade is the perfect venue for this salt-of-the-earth Mexican eatery. The dozen-table interior, bedecked with old Mexican movie posters, fills up early with cheap-beer-quaffing hipsters. Friendly service and an affordable menu are appealing, of course, but the real reason to come here is for the hard-to-find Mexican delights: chicken slathered in a peanut-laced mole sauce; “torta ahogada” from Guadalajara, a pork confit-stuffed mound of sourdough bread topped with spicy arbol sauce; and several varieties of explosively tasty tacos (for just $2.50), including rajas (roasted poblano pepper strips). The brunch offers options like over-easy eggs with refried beans, rajas and fire-roasted tomato sauce; or even just a simple toasted baguette with refried black beans, melted cheese and pico de gallo. There’s nothing fancy about La Superior, but it may serve the most authentic Mexican cuisine this side of the East River.
Iris Avelar and Felipe Mendez, La Superior
This month marks La Superior’s first full year in business, after opening up in Williamsburg much to the delight of taco-loving locals. Their authentic Mexican street and market fare has tantalized the tastebuds of everyone who has stopped by the taqueria (the first real one in Williamsburg, for those keeping track). This year they’ve got a new mural up, and hopefully by next year they’ll have their outdoor seating available.
Co-owners Iris Avelar and Felipe Mendez recently told us a little bit about their joint, the prospect of a liquor license, and chatting with James Brown in a hotel room.
How did the idea for La Superior come about? Iris: People often think the name has a Los Angeles reference or that it means “the superior” taqueria, but the intention is a play on the Mexican vintage beer, Superior. We believed La Superior made sense since we wanted to recreate the experience of a neighborhood cantina in Mexico.
Felipe: The idea of La Superior came out from seeing a big gap between fancy “mexican” restaurants and really bad ones in NYC, and even worse, no taquerias at all. The name of La Superior came out from a joke/game that is very common in Mexico that the traditional taquerias and cantinas are called La Poderosa (the powerful) La Unica (the unique one) La Especial (the special one) and so on… and also there’s a famous beer brand that was really popular in the 60’s and 70’s that disappeared from the market in the late 80’s, called La Superior.
What were you doing before this? Iris: I moved to New York to pursue television production but I soon put it on hold when I realized the best job offers were in LA and I didn’t want to leave New York. Then by chance I got into PR and discovered I enjoyed doing publicity. I’m still doing PR, I manage all press for La Superior and I’m currently working on developing other PR projects with a friend.
Felipe: Bartending in the mexican restaurant Papatzul (SoHo) for two years and before that at La Esquina, Rosa Mexicano, etc.
Did you know you wanted to have the restaurant in Williamsburg? Will there be any other locations? Iris: It took us about a year to find the right location. We looked at some places in downtown Manhattan but nothing really convinced us, besides Felipe has been living in Williamsburg for ever and it just made sense to open a neighborhood eatery there. We do want to expand whether it be in Williamsburg or outside the hood, but for now we are focusing on putting the finishing touches on our first location.
Felipe: We were looking for locations in downtown and after pretty much a year of looking down there we realized that setting the restaurant there was a bad idea and really hard. Plus I’ve been living in the neighborhood (Williamsburg) for almost 10 years and know it pretty well. We want to finish polishing La Superior before thinking to open a new location.
There was a rumor you would be opening an outdoor area, is that happening? Iris: We have benches outside the storefront where people can order take out and eat outside but we plan to have a sidewalk café next year.
Felipe: Yes, for next summer (also will be the World Cup!).
Are you still awaiting a liquor license? Iris: Yes, but hopefully not for long.
Does there seem to be a favorite menu item amongst regulars? Iris: Besides the tacos probably the quesadillas.
Felipe: I would say pretty much all the menu is popular, we don’t have a single dish that people don’t order, but the most popular dishes (tacos) would be the carnitas (pork confit), camaron (shrimp) and cochinita (pulled pork in banana leaves).
Do you ever alter the menu? Are there any secret items not on it that some regular customers may know about? Iris: We do seasonal specials biweekly and during significant Mexican holidays.
Felipe: We do bi-weekly specials. And sometimes we have tryouts and…it’s secret.
Please share your strangest “only in New York” story. Iris: This story is more humorous than strange but I was with a friend at the corner of Broome and Bowery when we saw what we thought was a lost cat. When we read his collar we were relieved to find out he lived nearby on Spring street so we called one of the two telephone numbers listed. A lady answered, listened to our story and responded unconcerned, “He’s fine. Sometimes he likes to take walks in the neighborhood..he always finds his way back.” Really? I thought, he might as well be a stray cat, I mean who lets their pets run wild on the Bowery?! Go figure it’s New York and everything is wild.
Felipe: I was working in Jean George restaurant about 6 years ago and for some reason I had to do room service that day. I was working the 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift and I was sent to a suite for a room service delivery, it was the first time I did a room service, I came up several flights, I was really nervous, and I ended up at James Brown’s suite in the Trump Tower. His wife(?) asked me what else besides serving at restaurants I did for living, I said “music” and she ran to the room and brought him down and suddenly I was having a chat with James Brown himself about music. Then he told me his theory and “secret” about music which I’m not going to reveal.
Then after 45 minutes of being there and chatting I had to leave thinking I was getting fired for taking so long there (I quit the job 2 weeks later) they tipped me $152 dollars for bringing a burger and a orange juice to their room! Only in NYC….
Which New Yorker do you most admire? Iris: Chloë Sevigny, she’s pretty cool! I admire that she’s an ambassador of downtown culture and a creative entrepreneur.
Felipe: Adam Yauch
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? Iris: This city is always changing, it’s really exciting! My ambition is that with La Superior we are making a mark culturally.
Felipe: Give mandatory chill pills to the NYPD every day…
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? Iris: I don’t think I would ever leave New York for good. Though I admit at times I just want to escape the rhythm of the city because it can wear me out, but I can’t stay away too long because I get bored and anxious to come back. I like to one day be a jetsetter so I can visit my family more often back in California, Mexico and Europe, wouldn’t that be the life!
Felipe: I haven’t really, I love NYC and not sure when I will escape from here. I believe once you fall in love of NY you never really leave, even if you are living somewhere else you always will think about it and you will always come back.
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? Iris: You know I’m really bad at recognizing celebrities but one of my favorite encounters so far was at Sway on the dance floor dancing real close to Ryan Gosling!
Felipe: Yes, about 3 weeks ago I did a catering at Studio B and don’t really know how, but I ended up having drinks and getting wasted with James Murphy and Pat Mahoney from LCD Soundsystem until really late. I had soooo much fun.
What’s your current soundtrack? Iris: There’s always a song stuck in my head, these past two weeks it’s been Cyndi Lauper’s “When You Were Mine”
Felipe: Mmm, that’s really hard to say. I do listen collect a lot of music. Tough call, but lately I’m reviving a lot of old records.
Sabres of Paradise - Haunted Dancehall
Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Daniel Wang - I was a Disco Malcontent.
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Mathew Dear - Asa Breed
Best cheap eat in the city. Iris: I like Café Petisco on East Broadway, it’s tasty, fairly inexpensive and reminds me of a small town eatery in Europe. I like going for brunch.
Felipe: Mooncake Foods. Delicious, cheap and reliable. Is not the coziest place, but tasty. I just discovered a new location at Midtown.
Best venue to see music. Iris: Ask Felipe, he’s the music fanatic.
Felipe: Bowery Ballroom, Hammerstein Ballroom, Studio B (r.i.p.), Love, Cielo.Contact the author of this article or email firstname.lastname@example.org with further questions, comments or tips.
31 best new cheap eats
The sucky economy brought us a parade of fantastically affordable new eateries. Thanks, mortgage crisis!
Why we love it: Picture the best taco truck in L.A. doing it up restaurant-style in Williamsburg and you’re halfway there. Streetwise takes on tacos ($2.50–$3.50) and quesadillas ($3.50) abound, but good luck tearing yourself away from the baseball-size gorditas overflowing with mild requesón and slick, orange chorizo ($5 for two), or the exceptional sopa tarasca ($6), a traditional black bean soup punched up with ancho chili goodness.
Top picks for $10 and under: Invest in four $2.50 tacos (we’re fans of the juice-squirting carne asada and carnitas varieties), or the more dignified torta ahogada—pork confit and black beans bundled in a sourdough roll and swirled with tongue-lashing arbol sauce—for $8. 295 Berry St at South 2nd St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-388-5988)
I never meant for this to be a food blog, but I just gotta mention this wonderful Mexican restaurant I found last night. Having grown up in San Francisco, proper Mexican food has always been available, ubiquitous as pizza and Chinese take outs. Moreover, San Franciscans have a masonic loyalty to the divey taquerias of the city. And so for the nearly two years I’ve been in New York, I’ve tried many Mexican places only to have unkind things to say. But oh, deliverance before me, I have found the Truth and it is good! I am going to eat at La Superior every day until my head explodes.
April 20, 2009
The superiority of La Superior
After starting off our Saturday (without a doubt NYC”s most perfect day, weather-wise) at the ever-amazing Jimmy’s No.43 sampling Nøgne Ø’s mighty fine brews, Jeff and I scurried over to explore a couple of Williamsburg hot spots before seeing a band at the Music Hall.
I was nervous nelly-ing that the little tacqueria wouldn’t have anything for vegetarians — or pescatarian, as Jeff would now like to be known — but I needn’t have worried my dainty little head. We had Rajas tacos (roasted poblano pepper strips, cooked with Mexican cream and onions), Hongos tacos (mushrooms sauteed with epazote and garlic), and Pescado zarandeado tacos (non-fried fish, topped with pico). All topped with green salsa, delicious! The fish taco was my favorite of these, spicy and full of flavor. Next time I’ll try the Camarón al chipotle (sautéed shrimp with chipotle sauce) - don’t know how I managed to miss those.
What you see above is La Superior’s Papa con queso (potato and cheese) quesadilla - slathered with creama and cheese, of course. Simple, yet scrumptious. What is the mysterious white Mexican cheese?? It seems there are different versions of it depending on the restaurant, but it’s always heavenly.
Ah, some lettuce. Goes nicely with the cheese. These are gorditas, filled with requeson (ricotta
mixed with cilantro, with lettuce and crema). The cornmeal pockets are what make this so amazing.
Topped off with aguas frescas - watermelon to the left, prickly pear on the right. Chunky with fruit, not too sweet, and altogether satisfying.
All for $24.50. I’d hit up La Superior if you’re hankering for some tasty Mexican street food. Now I just need to head to Mexico to write up a comparison…hmm…
295 Berry St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Mon-Thurs 12:30 pm-midnight, Fri.-Sun 12:30
As old-timey newspaper men in the movies would say, “Stop The Presses!” Being a Southern California native, I have a huge stick up my ass about the quality and price of Mexican food in NYC. Aside from the delicious taco van inside Union Pool, I had yet to find another place that sold good quality tacos at under $9 a taco. Until now. And it’s not a cart or van! It’s an actual restaurant.
If this experience were a movie trailer, it would begin thusly:
Anna G. was just an ordinary girl, when 3 days ago, before her roommate and his friend were seeing a show at the Music Hall, they decided to meet up for dinner somewhere close to the venue. Someone suggested La Superior. Would she be a MexiCAN or a MexiCAN’T? This time….. it’s personal.
Though this place can definitely not be considered “baja” style Mexican food (rather, I guess it’s more the type of stuff you’d find more common in Mexico City), it still has the sensibility of what a Mexican food place should be: no-frills and cheap. I started out with the Ezquites, which is essentially, Mexican corn on the cob made much, much less messy…because it’s in a cup. Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this? And guess what else? It was $4. We also got some chips & really good guac for the table for $5.
And my 3 tacos? Fucking $2.50 a piece. I got 2 grilled fish tacos, and tried one rajas taco (roasted poblano pepper strips cooked with some kind of creamy sauce). I didn’t care much for the rajas taco, but the fish tacos were pretty good. B had the Queso Fundido for $6.50, which is Chihuahua cheese with your choice of mushrooms or chorizo, with corn tortillas. It looked pretty good as a main course or appetizer.
Essentially, I got 5 food items for about $11. Kiss my MexiCAN ass, Dos Caminos!
“It’s not only the kitschy posters in Spanish, or the skateboard decks or the cramped, ramshackle decor that is reminiscent of a Mexican diner in East Los Angeles or Mexico City; no, it’s the authentic Mexican street food, cooked and served lighting fast to the delight of the restaurant’s many devotees,” writes Keith Wagstaff for Citysearch.
Pete Wells of the New York Times raves about La Superior’s tacos (priced at $2.50 each), but says that “what sets it apart is its dinner menu, with types of street food less frequently spotted in the city.” Eating in Translation shares some tasty photos of La Superior’s panuchos, which New York magazine describes as “a tidy composition of three corn tortillas, each split and filled with a thin slice of hard-cooked egg and a dab of refried beans, then topped with compellingly spiced bits of shredded pork, and onions pickled in orange juice.”
Chowhound Juanita calls La Superior “far better than Bonita. The fish tacos are wonderful; so are the ezquites (corn in a cup); so is the nopales salad. I went to a birthday party there with a bunch of Mexicans and everybody was happy & thought it was authentic.” What’s your take on this place?Posted on July 6, 2009