You may know Sara Markel-Gonzalez from her Queens roundups and Taco Thursdays. She'll be introducing you to Mexican specialties around the borough, and tipping you off on where to try them. First up? Albondigas!

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Every day, at many Mexican restaurants that cater to a mostly Mexican clientele (particularly in the outer boroughs), there is a rotating list of off-the-menu specials. The specials are generally closer to home-cooked fare—meats braised in rich sauces, hearty soups, stewed vegetables. Mostly messy, not always beautiful, sometimes unfamiliar; but flavorful and satisfying food.

When I eat out (or more likely, order in) at any of my favorite Mexican spots in my borough of Queens, the first thing I ask about are these daily specials. And if I see or hear albondigas on the menu, I always order them.

Albondigas are meatballs, and in central and southern Mexico, they are large and dense—usually bathed in a thick, smoky, chipotle tomato sauce. Every cook makes them a little differently; some people use rice as a filler, some use bread. Some people add fresh mint to the meat mixture, some use cilantro; sometimes they are stuffed with hard-boiled egg. Last week, I ordered from Tulcingo Restaurant in Elmhurst—and came across a new version I loved.

The plate came with three very large spheres of meat, black beans, and rice. The meatballs were garnished with three thickly cut rings of raw onion, a crisp and sharp counter to the spicy and very rich chipotle sauce; though it was on the border of being too greasy, it stopped just short. And Tulcingo's version was of the egg-filled school, which I love.

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All in all, a good dish, and one that I would definitely order again from them. But then, there are so many other specials to try. It's worth it to explore off the menu, and I've found that the specials are usually made with care and pride. Next time, we'lll try costillas en salsa verde con verdolagas.

Tulcingo Restaurant

40-11 82nd Street, Elmhurst NY 11373 (map)
718-205-3134

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