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Taco Santana is the darling of Mexican restaurants in Williamsburg, managing hangovers and hunger pangs with double-stacked tortas and greasy tacos for almost five years. It's a mere 15 foot square room with three tables, a drink case, and a tiny open kitchen. The lady behind the stove, and her family taking orders and refilling salsa bottles, know what they are doing and do it very well.

tacosantana.jpgThe menu is limited and dirt-cheap, even by the standards of most outer-borough Mexican taquerias. The tacos ($2), with a variety of meats, are fine. The tortas ($3.50) are even better, the makings of a good sandwich (even if the roll's not great). The sopes ($3), hand-flattened corn patties topped with beans, lettuce, crema, and lots of crumbled aged cheese, are delicious--crispy around the edges and slightly oily to the touch, tasting of toasted corn. The grated aged cheese is showered over most dishes with a heavy hand; milky and fresh, the salty crumbles are a highlight. So is the cecina, salted beef that is sizzled on the griddle then cut into strips. It's called "stripper beef" on the menu and is a flavorful choice to fill any taco, torta, or tostada.

But the humble chilaquiles are all but perfect. Typically a morning dish, chilaquiles were created to used up stale tortillas leftover from dinner the night before. The stale tortillas are briefly fried in oil, to refresh and soften them, then cut into wedges and simmered in a vibrant chile sauce. They can be topped with bits meat for added heft but are best, I believe, served simply with a fried egg.

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Understandably, some restaurants take a shortcut with this dish and use chips--crispy, completely fried chips, as the base, instead of dried-out old tortillas, making for crunchier chilaquiles. Tacos Santana sticks with tradition, which results in a bowl of spicy, spoonable mush. The most important decision you'll have to make is whether you want the red or the green. The red chilaquiles, when topped with carne enchilada, is as comforting and savory as a good bowl of red-sauced pasta. The tortillas remain al dente and the sauce, a red, spicy, pork-flecked gravy, is akin to a maltagliati alla amatriciana on steroids. And the green chilaquiles, a tart, inflammatory dish made from tomatillos and green chiles, will have you sweating in pain. Even with the creamy ooze of protein from a golden egg yolk and cool crema to balance the heat, you'll have to stop after every third bite, to gasp and lurch for your soda. It just hurts so good.

Taco Santana

301 Keap Street, Brooklyn NY 11211 (map)
(718) 388-8761


About the author: Scarlett Lindeman is a cook, food-writer, and recipe editor of Diner Journal, a food/arts quarterly, The Diner Journal. E-mail her at scarlett.lindeman@gmail.com.

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