Mexican Eats: Rare, Stellar Tlacoyos on Junction Boulevard, Jackson Heights

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[Photographs: Scarlett Lindeman]

Underneath the tracks of the 7 train at Junction Boulevard, where Jackson Heights and Corona meet, there's a warren of street-level commerce: Salvadoran pupusa trucks sit parked in a line; vendors with folding tables that buckle from the weight of their six-gallon jars dole out multi-hued juices; Ecuadorian carts with half a dozen breeds of toasted corn kernels, some as large as gumballs. A small no-name cart near the north-west corner of Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue, blends in well.

It would be easy to pass it by were it not for the fruit selection, so brightly colored and ripe that the deep biological desire for sweet, fresh fruit kicks you in their direction. The towers of plastic clam-shell containers ($3-5) hold chunks of pineapple, slices of sultry mango, squares of watermelon, and a mix of all three plus cherries, kiwi, and bone-white coconut shavings. The containers are to be popped open and doused with lemon juice and commercial hot sauce, to be eaten with your fingers while strolling through the swarm.

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The cart is run by a family from Atlixco, a town 30 minutes south of Puebla, where many of New York City's Mexican community is from. They serve a small savory menu of antojitos: tacos ($2.50) and sopes ($3) with plancha-seared meats, quesadillas holding chicharrones stewed in green sauce or with slivers of squash, and gorditas ($3), toasted corn patties split down the middle, plumped with beans or more chicharrones. The last members of this five-dish line up are tlacoyos, a boomerang-shaped, bean-stuffed antojito that's traditionally a simple sidecar accompaniment to a sit-down meal of a soup or stew.

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Recently, tlacoyos have felt the pull of the streets, and to appeal to pedestrians they are sold with meaty toppings, piled with shredded lettuce, and drenched in crema. Here they are served simply, stuffed with ayocote, a dried heirloom runner bean colored a refulgent indigo. The bean has been cultivated since pre-Columbian times and cooks into a gorgeous silky mash. Hot off the griddle, the earthy corn cradles rich bean, with a fiery green salsa, a squirt of crema, and a dusting of queso fresco on top. Nothing taste more delicious than to stand and eat one of these on a street corner in Queens while the crowd whips past, a mouthful of the past in a frenetic future.

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Corner of Junction Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue Jackson Heights, NY 11372 (map)

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

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