The Food Freak

Cooking, dining, and appreciating food through the written word. A young West-Coast food-lover has been displaced to numerous small towns and cities on the East Coast; in New Jersey, New England, and now the Hudson Valley. This is his story.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mexican on the East Coast

The biggest and most familiar complaint from West coasters like myself moving East is the lack of Mexican food and the lack of respect for Mexican food we find out here near the Atlantic. Your Chevy's and On the Border's insult us and all of the cultures of Mexico they purport to represent. I believe that it is immoral, not just lame and unfortunate, but downright immoral, to pass awful food off to an unknowing American public as "Mexican" or "Italian" or "Indian". People eat mediocre-to-awful food and then believe "Ah, that's Mexican, I don't think I like Mexican" or Indian or Middle-Eastern or whatever. In the process, you have bastardized the culinary offspring of an entire culture. Imagine, you East Coasters, the Chinese, Japanese, or South Americans thinking that all there is to "pizza" is Domino's, or all there is to Italian is Olive Garden.

But my ranting aside, I have been told, and have since confirmed, that the Hudson Valley is one of the few places on the East Coast with a growing and vibrant community of Mexican immigrants building small enclaves of bakeries, eateries, and markets. Poughkeepsie in particular sparked my interest. I have tried three such places; El Bracero, Mole Mole, and Tacocina.

Tacocina (on Route 9 in Wappinger Falls) is by far my favorite at the moment. For a Southern Californian, the food can be best described as "good taco-truck tacos and rice and beans." For you East Coasters who do not know what a taco-truck is, I'll give you a more complete review. Tacocina is a little grocery-mart with a kitchen in the back. They make fresh corn tortillas, the little three inch kind, and have a wide array of meats simmering together for your choosing. The meat is chopped fresh and placed in two corn tortillas with just onions and cilantro. Tacos are are $1. Meats include chicken, beef, carnitas (pork), and all your favorite innards, from tripe to brain. My favorites so far are the beef and the longanisa, a Mexican sausage with a rich cinnamony and herby kick. Enchiladas are made with fresh, simple cheeses and the green and red salsas are all homemade. Grab yourself four tacos and a horchata and you have a beautiful $5 taste of Central-Northern Mexican cuisine. I hear through the grapevine Tacocina
is the local favorite of the Culinary Institute of America chef's-in-training.

I would recommend El Bracero also, but I need to try it a few more times to get a complete opinion. Mole Mole is good, but not great. Their items are on the greasier side and do not taste as fresh. They do not make their own fresh hot sauces. Their carne asada is well seasoned, but not seared at a high enough temperature for caramelization, a necessity for good carne asada. In terms of quality of ingredients, Tacocina beats them all. But both Mole Mole and El Bracero remind me of East LA, which says a lot on the East Coast.

One complaint about both Tacocina and El Bracero. Is it a Oaxacan norm to leave the pork-shoulder skin on for Carnitas, and then to chop it up and serve it with the carnitas tacos? If so, I find it much too greasy and chewy. I've never had carnitas like this in California, but then again, I didn't know a lot of Oaxacans in California.


Anonymous athina said...

Well, I tried Tacocina today. I loved the authenticity of the place, I liked being able to see the meats simmer behind the counter, and how the meat for each taco is hand-chopped right in front of you. I liked that it wasn't the americanized version of Mexican food. I liked the wide selection of meats as well.
I tried 4 tacos, one chicken, one carnita, one beef, and one longanisa.
I loved the thin salsas (not at all chunky) they provided with my order, the fresh sliced radishes, and the generous amount of lime wedges. These things may seem trivial to some, but I was pleased by it. I love the smaller size of the tacos, and the simplicity of the chopped onion and cilantro condiment. My only complaint would be that the meat wasn't well seasoned. (aside from the longanisa, which is a pre-seasoned sausage) The rest of the meats were in need of seasoning, especially salt. I will go back to try other items, such as the tamales they offer only on weekends, the chiles rellenos, and the huaraches. I would probably order the tacos again as well, and maybe just add my own salt to them.
I'm glad to see that they are doing a good business. It is good to know that people can appreciate the authentic versions of these mexican staples.

1:31 PM  

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