A Taqueria That Doesn’t Stop at Tacos

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By Pete Wells,

November 26, 2008

http://events.nytimes.com/2008/11/26/dining/reviews/26under.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

 

They got the look right,” said a friend who grew up in Los Angeles when we walked into La Superior.

Which was a nice way of saying La Superior isn’t much to look at. This small restaurant in South Williamsburg emulates a small-town Mexican taqueria, but it reminded my friend of Southern California. A coat of red paint, a row of dim filament bulbs, and a scattering of posters for Mexploitation films with titles like “El Mal” and “Hijos de Tigre” pass for décor. Four well-worn wooden skateboards propped up alongside the service counter contribute to the Angeleno effect. A room that looks so nonchalantly slapped together doesn’t happen by accident, but you can never quite catch the signs of effort.

He said they’d got the prices right, too, resisting the urge to milk extra cash out of carnitas-starved Brooklyn residents. All but two items on the dinner menu are under $10, including tax. Tacos are $2.50 each, except for the very fine one with cubes of beef tongue, for which you must pay another dollar. Each time I ate there, I did a double-take when I got the check. Did I really just spend less than $50 taking three friends out for dinner? (I really did, helped along by La Superior’s temporary bring-your-own-Pacifico policy and its permanent refusal to sell dessert.)

My friend thought La Superior cheated a bit with the architecture of those tacos, though. They ought to have been built on a foundation of two soft corn tortillas, not one, he argued, and he wanted to see the toppings heaped up in a generous mound.

I didn’t care. For the most part, the tacos held together on the short trip from plate to mouth. I don’t ask for much beyond that from my tacos as long as the fillings taste good, and the ones at La Superior did, resoundingly. I was wild about the tacos with rajas, strips of mild roasted poblanos swaddled in thick cream. Shrimp in chipotle sauce had a sneaky heat. Pescado zarandeado is described on the menu as “non-fried fish,” a translation that needs its own translation. The fish is grilled and seasoned with habaneros and tomatoes, making it a very welcome addition to New York’s fish taco landscape.

If you’re the kind of eater who keeps track of worthwhile Mexican restaurants on a wall-size map of the five boroughs, La Superior would rate a pushpin on the strength of its tacos alone. But what sets it apart is its dinner menu, with types of street food less frequently spotted in the city.

Its quesadillas, for instance. As used here, the word refers to something that New Yorkers might call an overgrown empanada: big, deep-fried turnovers. These half-moons are filled with sautéed mushrooms or a mash of potatoes and chorizo, then hidden under thick cream and fresh cheese ($3.50).

Or its gorditas. Definitely the gorditas, pockets of hot, crisp cornmeal that are split open and stuffed with chopped lettuce and a tender fresh cheese called requesón. Its fluffy curds somewhat resemble ricotta and are exactly the thing you’d want to stuff into a pocket of hot, crisp cornmeal ($5 for two).

Once in a while, the kitchen can disappoint. Black beans may taste underseasoned, and the chicken buried under a rich cloak of tomatillo sauce in enchiladas suizas ($10) makes no impression at all. Perhaps it gave all its flavor to the rich broth in a remarkable bowl of sopa de verdura, filled with squash and corn kernels ($5.50).

But my memories of the less satisfying dishes were more or less obliterated in the face of the mighty torta ahogada. This sandwich is, understandably, a subject of much passion in Guadalajara. Inside the sandwich are crispy, juicy chunks of carnitas, but it’s what goes outside, and on top of, and around the bread that counts: a fiery red sauce made with skinny chiles de arból. True, the sauce at La Superior could be spicier. But it’s got enough warmth to justify the difficulty of eating a soaking wet sandwich served in a bowl ($7.50).

With a few more chilies in that sauce, you might not notice how cold it’s been in the restaurant the past few weeks. The heating system is still getting used to New York, so if you go before spring arrives, wear a coat you don’t mind eating in.