Mexican Eats: Cholula Deli

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A highlight of Bushwick's culinary geography is Cholula Deli, equal parts bodega, juice counter, grocery, and restaurant—one of many outer-borough stores selling Mexican wares. Owner Angelo Tapia opened the first Cholula almost eight years ago on Myrtle Avenue. Starting with a small grocery store, Tapia sold Mexican products which were then rarities in Bushwick. When waves of immigrants flocking to the neighborhood started asking for tacos and tortas, he installed a two-foot electric grill in back and started cooking.

Three years ago he opened a second location on Wyckoff, and a third, on Broadway. Today, the three stores each have restaurants with similar menus. Past the rows of Mexican bulk candies, bottles of hot sauce, and bags of the dried hibiscus flower to make the tart scarlet drink jamaica, there are small, clean dining rooms. The Myrtle location expanded last year to include more seats, a beer fridge, and a larger grocery.

Cholula is an archetypical taqueria, a fixture of the neighborhood that meets a multitude of needs: to spend the evening over a platter of bistec and grilled nopales listening to the frenetic trumpet in a NorteƱo tune blasting from the jukebox; mornings of crunchy chilaquiles and milky coffee; or, just picking up a bouquet of cilantro, some tomatillos, and beet juice to-go.

The menu covers usual ground with large platters of fried fish, thick and rich mole poblanos, and decent tacos. They never forget the papalo on the cemitas, which are layered with enough avocado, cheese, beans, and chipotles to make a Big Mac look like a slider. Guacamole is well-done here, with just cilantro, onion, and slivers of jalapeno; and the rice and beans are killer.

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The restaurant also does wonders with pork. All selections are stained a deep chile orange but smack with different layers of flavor: the al pastor is dotted with pineapple; the chorizo, perfumed with cinnamon; the carnitas, a pure porky essence; and the carne enchilada, with plancha-crisped edges, contends for the best in the neighborhood. You can get any porcine variety, or chicken or beef, in tacos, tostadas, or enchiladas, under mounds of shredded lettuce, crema, and green sauce. The huaraches, sandal-sized toasted corn patties layered with beans, onions, and lots of crema, are a favorite.

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Greens are not a strong-point for most New York taquerias; though I particularly like their expansive avocado salad here. It is served on a bed of iceberg lettuce but comes with carefully sliced coins of radish, crisp white onion rings, and what seems like 1 1/2 whole avocados, sliced into wedges. Sprinkled with lime, oregano, and salt, it scours away most indiscretions.

Cholula Deli

222 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11237 (and 2 other locations) (map)
718-417-0941

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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