We've written about Estrellita before, praising their excellent cemitas in particular and their entrees, including a pretty exciting Oaxacan mole, more generally. The mini-chain, with locations in Allerton, Unionport, and Westchester Square, serves some of the best Mexican in the Bronx.
Most days of the week they buffer their menu with daily specials. On weekends they call in the horses, offering a wider range of options: pork chops in green sauce, barbacoa, goat consomme, and fancy tacos with bulb onions among other dishes. Most of the specials are traditional fare; others are the kitchen's own inventions.
One such dish is their pollo enchipotlado al horno ($11.95), chicken marinated in chipotle chilies, then roasted in the oven. Not a traditional part of the Mexican culinary repertoire, al horno ("in the oven") points to more recent origins.
Served swimming in a puddle of chipotle sauce the color of dessert cliffs, the chicken comes with rice and beans, grilled cactus, and steamed corn tortillas for DIY tacos. The meat carries the same beautiful orange color of the sauce. Tender and vibrant, if a little salty, the meat tastes as good as it looks: with some sweetness and a minor dash of heat beneath the jazzy, talkative chipotles. It won't last long.
Countering the soft texture of the meat, the lightly charred cactus leaves are tougher to the chew and pack a simpler, unadulterated flavor that preserves the vegetable's character. Stuff the tortillas with the cactus, rice, and beans for some vegetarian recourse, and spoon in some of the sauce for an extra kick.
Typically, salsa and chips don't usually warrant a mention. As often as not you're left with a lonely basket of stale, tough chips that linger around begging for attention. Not here: their chips are—usually—fresh and the pico de gallo, packed with diced white onion, is particularly good.
With summer fast approaching, a cooling refreshment may be in order, too. Sure, there's gelato from nearby DeLillo's, which won't fail to please. But Estrellita offers a roster of drinks that shouldn't be skipped over: lively batidas ($3, fruit and milk based shakes) and a mean hibiscus tea served over ice ($2.50). Rarer in these parts is their horchata ($2.50), the quintessential Mexican drink of rice and milk. Flavored with almonds and vanilla, its not one of those made-from-the-mix perpetrators but the real deal: sweet and nutty, with a potent rice flavor.
If you're looking for a genuinely Bronx kind of day, it's hard to beat a few hours of afternoon shopping at Arthur Ave's Italian classics: fresh egg noodles from Borgatti, some of Casa's homemade mozzarella, and extra spicy soppressata by way of Calabria (one for home, one for road snacking)—followed by a meal at Estrellita. And if you're looking to take it a step further, grab a couple pumpkin burekfrom Tony and Tina's after—just say "no" to the microwave and "oven, please."
Estrellita Poblana III
2328 Arthur Ave, Bronx NY 10458 (map)
About the author: Chris Crowley is a former Serious Eats intern and the author of the Bronx Eats column. You can follow him on twitter here, or pay a visit to his new food blog, Sound Bites, over on Wordpress.