It's one of those early blazing days of summer, out in the vinyl-sided rows of residential Bushwick and inside the un-airconditioned Los Tres Marias Cafeteria, it's stifling. There are just a handful of folding tables and chairs, a deer head mounted on the wall, and freshly fried tortilla chips from a fryer the size of a shoebox. The chunky avocado salsa that goes with it hums with a stealthy green heat that requires a second bottle of tart tamarind soda.
There are eight women, many more than just tres Marias, laughing and spilling out from behind the kitchen, some in aprons, some nibbling tacos. The cafeteria is run by Veronica, a bespectacled woman with dark hair slicked into a tight ponytail, she and her group of female friends have been feeding the locals with plates of eggs with red sauce, beans, and rice that comes scooped from a plastic storage bin, for almost seven years.
The doubled-stacked tacos ($2.00-2.50) are beautifully delicate, with a tiny dice of crisp white onion and cilantro tumbling over shreds of orange al pastor, carne enchilada, and crispy, subtle goat meat, slightly oily to the touch and deeply savory. A torta de milanesa de pollo ($5) comes packed to the brim, the pounded slip of meat overshadowed by the haystack of shredded quesillo cheese, pickled jalapeños, and avocado. Picadas, ($1.50-2.50), patted rounds of masa crisp from the griddle, are a favorite. They're rich with steamy corn flavor and spread with tomatillo sauce, shreds of cheese, a couple cubes of onion, and squirts of crema. Meat, like crumbles of spicy chorizo or mild white chicken, can be added, but are superfluous additions to an already perfect snack.
Luckily, the weekend mole poblano special ($9.50) sometimes extends throughout the week. Smothered over enchiladas, chicken pieces, or barbacoa, it's a dark warm blanket of spice, cocoa, and care. You could spend all morning eating a plate: dunking spoonfuls of rice into it, fashioning tacos from the chicken pieces and warm tortillas on the side, and unpacking the flavors, of sticky cooked chiles, of honey and raisins, and like the house salsa, it's spicier than it seems.
Los Tres Marias Cafeteria
187 Suydam St. Brooklyn, NY 11221 (map)