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.