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Seeking out the best Mexican food in New York City, one dish at a time.

Mexican Eats: Taqueria El Paisa, an Electrified Al Pastor

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[Photographs: Scarlett Lindeman]

On a sharp corner in Bushwick's Southern row is Taqueria El Paisa, a tiny triangle of a taqueria. Just three stools, a circumscribed menu, a walk-up counter, and some of the best al pastor tacos in the city, ($2.50, or 3 for $6). Al pastor, a shawarma-style rotating spit that cooks stacks of meat from the outside in, was introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants. The meat is shaved off into delectable shreds, then piled into a tortilla, swapped in for the pita.

Mexican cooks also exchanged chile-rubbed pork for the traditional lamb and impaled a fresh pineapple at the top of the "trompo," the spinning top, to slowly baste the meat with its roasting juices. Al pastor is a common filling for tacos and burritos throughout the city, leaving its telltale mark of vivid drippings of orange grease and chunks of canned pineapple. Too many kitchens go wild with the fruit, turning out tacos that taste like Hawaiian punch. And, if it hasn't made rounds on the spit, it's not real al pastor. Fortunately this is not the case at El Paisa.

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I can tell you that there are supple lengua tacos ($2.50), a rough red salsa, and super cheap cemitas ($6) at Taqueria El Paisa, but that would be beside the point. You're there for the layers of al pastor, which rotate on the spit as mesmerizing as a lava lamp. The smoking exterior is trimmed from the mass, showered with diced onion and cilantro, and piled into a warm, doubled, tortilla. The pork is crispy and charred, so concentrated it tastes almost like another animal. Every juicy, crunchy morsel is the clamored-after corner piece, warm with chile, a buzz of citrus, a faint tropical sweetness, and just enough fat to tie it together. The warm, bland, tortilla buffers the electricity. With so many overlapping currents of flavor, there's no room for salsa—a spritz of lime is the only sane addition.

Taqueria El Paisa

298 Irving Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11237 (map)
718-456-2095

About the author: Scarlett Lindeman wears many hats: a food-writer, recipe editor of Diner Journal, a food/arts quarterly, and a doctoral student of sociology. E-mail her at scarlett.lindeman@gmail.com.

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