As someone who's found plenty of down-home Pueblan cooking both in Jackson Heights and Hell's Kitchen, I've never understood Californian expats who complain about New York City's Mexican food. Get away from the margarita mills and you'll find everything from slow-roasted goat to gigantic sandwiches. One thing that's been missing, however, is a Mexican wrestling themed restaurant. Stepping into this gaping void is La Lucha, an East Village spot barely three weeks old.
Colorful luchadore masks sit above the Virgin of Guadalupe at Adriana Leon's shrine to one of Mexico City's most popular forms of entertainment (as well its street food). As if that weren't cool enough, she sources her tortillas from Corona's Tortilleria Nixtamal. Last night I went there with Nixtamal's Fernando Ruiz and Shauna Page. Ruiz never goes out for Mexican food, but made an exception for La Lucha. A look at some luchadore-themed comida after the jump.
In Mexico, as well as Sunset Park and Jackson Heights, this popular street snack is known as elotes. La Lucha dubs its version Villanos ($3), after a famous family of Mexican bad-guy wrestlers. Slathered with chipotle mayo, rolled in crumbled cotija cheese, doused with lime and sprinkled with chili salt, it'll have you rooting for the bad guy. "Just like in Mexico," Ruiz said between bites.
El Martinete ($3), a sweet and savory tag team of black beans and cotija topped with a chunk of plantain and pickled red onions, pays homage to a move better known as the piledriver.
Silver-masked El Santo (The Saint), perhaps the most famous good guy in lucha libre, lends his name to the best of the specialty tacos (3 for $12). A meaty trifecta—cecina, salted beef; chicharron, fried pork; and chorizo—sits atop a Nixtamal tortilla that's been griddled, bringing out the toasty corn flavor. You might think La Lucha made up this over-the-top taco, which happens to be Ruiz's favorite, but it's a Mexico City classic known as taco campechano. Leon borrowed the recipe from Tacos Villamelon, a taqueria just outside the city's bull fighting arena.
This combination of steak, cheese, and bacon takes its name from heavyweight Mil Máscaras (A Thousand Masks). Think of it as Mexico's answer to the Philly cheesesteak, yet somehow lighter on its feet.
La Lucha takes its obsession with Mexican wrestling to the extreme by functioning as a boutique with everything from T-shirts, masks, earring and even a lucha-themed rosary. Given how good the food is, it's a safe bet La Guadulupana forgives such irreverence.
147 Avenue A, New York NY 10009 (map)