Editor's note: Nobody knows the outer boroughs like our man Joe DiStefano, who takes great joy in walking the gustatory road less traveled. Last week it was guinea pig in Jackson Heights, this week it's cemitas in, well- Jackson Heights (what can we say, there is a lot of good eating in Queens). —Zach
I have frequented the taquerias along the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue that runs from Woodside in the high sixties all the way the to the low hundreds just shy of Shea for years, but I'm ashamed to admit I have a dirty little secret. I have yet to find something that I don't like nestled between two corn tortillas, but until very recently I had never tried a cemita. I'm not proud of it, but based on looking at the pictures on the menu at Taqueria Coatzingo in Jackson Heights, I've always regarded them as little more than tortas served on a slightly different looking roll. And seeing as how a torta is like a taco on steroids (thanks to a a schmear of refried beans, sliced avocado, lettuce, tomato, queso blanco and pickled jalapenos), how could one possibly improve upon such a creation?
My cemita wakeup call came a couple of weeks ago while walking home from a Mets game and decided to stop in at the 82nd St. outpost of Taqueria Coatzingo. Earlier in the week my pal Scott Smith of R.U.B. raved about cemitas, and the beguiling herb known as papalo that they were dressed with. Seeing as how I was familiar with the Torta Cubana (a Mexican version of the pressed sandwich, that's crammed with ham, queso blanco, the requisite refried bean schmear, avocado, pickled jalapenos, a fried egg, sausage and fried pork), I figured I would be safe in ordering the Cubana Cemita.
Slightly different, though no less hefty, the sandwich came without egg or sausage, but there was plenty of pork-- with ham, a breaded pork cutlet and slices of roast pork making an appearance. Quesillo, or Mexican string cheese stood in for queso blanco, joined by some swiss and chipotles, which provided the heat instead of jalepenos. In addition to being rather messy, the first bite was a tidal wave of flavor and texture; warm fatty meat melding with creamy avocado, gloopy cheese and the smokey bass note of the chile peppers. Soon I noticed another player in this sandwich symphony, the papalo. Its bright lemony cilantro wallop cut through the fattiness and sheer volume of the cemita, enabling me to eat more of it than I thought I could. And that's never a bad thing.
76-05 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, Queens (map)
40-18 82nd St., Elmhurst, Queens (map)