Not infrequently, it occurs to me that I'm a member of a unique generation, for whom two things are true. I can remember life without email and web browsing and I can remember a time when ethnic food was exotic in a strange way, not an exciting way. When it was harder to keep in constant touch with faraway people, particularly in the frivolous, everyday way allowed by email and Flickr and blogs and the lot. And when sushi was something that only New York yuppies or California weirdos ate, and where, if you grew up in the suburbs, you were lucky to have a single greasy Chinese place serving pu-pu platters and a Taco Bell. A time, the 80s, specifically, before the two great themes of our generation became manifest: globalization and the Intenret.
One strange remnant of this disconnected provincialism held over into New York when I first arrived here eight years ago: it was hard to find really good Mexican food. Why?
It didn't really make any sense, but it was almost a truism. And not even in comparison to the excessive pride that San Francisco takes in its burritos. Even compared to the odd Mexican restaurant that you might find at the bottom of Federal Hill in Providence, or on California Avenue in Palo Alto.
Unplanned, but not unappreciated, I spent a weekend eating Mexican food recently, and I can heartily recommend two New York venues.
First, Nolita's Cafe El Portal, which I visited with friends following after work drinks. Cozy, inexpensive, and quite delicious (at least if you're hungry and a little drunk), the real winning touch is that, while waiting to seat you in their small, sunken dining room, they will bring you frozen margaritas in plastic cups for you to enjoy on the sidewalk. Drinks on the sidewalk. Ole!
Second, Brooklyn's Hecho En Dumbo, in my favorite neighborhood, for its feel of secret abandon. Traditional Mexican fare, classed up in that way that certain neighborhood's demand. Also, atmospheric in the right ways. Not everything was a home run, but the sopas with crab meat were delicious, and the spicy pork tacos were the bomb.
Finally, worth a mention, less for the food than the frozen margaritas, the venue, the crowd, the green-friendly ethic, is Habana Outpost. Go there after a summer rain, where it's not as crowded, everything is just as good, and there's likely to be a MeetUp.