It's that time of year again—Mexican Independence Day, September 16! It may be chilly out today, but it's perfect weather to wander the neighborhood for a full day of food, Mexican-style. And in Queens, there's a lot to find.
Let's start with breakfast. A colorful and filling start to the day is some sweet pan mexicano and a hot cup of champurrado. The concha (or shell) is always a favorite. Sweet, porous, and somewhat dry, this bread is meant to be dipped into coffee, hot chocolate, or any other warm drink of your choice. The name comes from the pattern piped on top of the bread, the sweetened lard (or shortening) in a shell shape. These extra large versions of the bread can be found at Tulcingo Bakery for $1.00 each. Champurrado is a type of atole, or masa-based drink, flavored with chocolate and cinnamon. The masa makes the mixture thick and hearty, with a slight corn flavor, and it's sweetened with the cone of Mexican brown sugar called piloncillo. Many of the ladies selling tamales in the mornings have thermoses full of champurrado, or arroz con leche, for $1.00 a cup.
Tulcingo Restaurant and Panaderia
40-11 82nd Street, Elmhurst, Queens NY (map)
On to lunch. Tacos are always a delicious, fast, and cheap option; but how about freshly-made quesadillas with uniquely Mexican ingredients? At Quesadillas Jazz, a cart on the corner of Baxter and 82nd Street, they make their quesadillas ($2.50 each) from fresh masa. After pressing the balls of masa flat, placing them on the griddle, then adding cheese and the filling of your choice, they fold the large tortilla over, and top it with lettuce, cream, cheese, and salsa verde, roja, or both. Huitlacoche is the perfect filling to order on Independence Day—very Mexican. If you haven't tried it before, the fungus that grows on ears of corn tastes much better than it sounds, mushroom-y and earthy, but with the sweetness of corn, it's delicious folded into warm tortillas.
Another fun filling is chorizo con papas, spicy sausage with soft chunks of potatoes. The potatoes soak up all of the flavor, as well as the bright red color, of the chorizo. And as always, the toppings add texture and flavor: crunch and creaminess, salt and spice. Wash it all down with a bottle of cold tamarind soda ($2.00), refreshing, sweet, and slightly sour.
Quesadillas Jazz Cart
Baxter Ave and 82nd St, Elmhurst, Queens NY (map)
At Guadalajara de Noche there's a fun dinner special, served in the very Mexican molcajete, the mortar and pestle carved from volcanic rock, that was traditionally used to make salsas and such in the pre-blender era. The molcajete de carne (15.00) is exactly what it says it is—a molcajete filled with meat. The pig-shaped rock is piled artistically with a thin slice of grilled steak, a butterflied chicken breast, a spicy split chorizo, a grilled block of white, melty cheese, and a griddled nopal, or cactus paddle. At the bottom of this meat festival is a warm and very spicy salsa ranchera, a tomato-based sauce. Served with warm tortillas, rice, beans, and a small ramekin of the pungent herb papalo for freshness, it's a celebration in a very heavy bowl. Add a light beer, like Modelo Especial, or an agua fresca, horchata to cool you down.
Guadalajara de Noche
85-09 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens NY (map)