Bronx Eats: Enchiladas Michocanas from Real Azteca, Hunts Point
Tucked into two adjacent storefronts just off Southern Boulevard in Hunts Point, Real Azteca gained some acclaim among certain food obsessives for one simple reason: the presence of a tortilla press. It was a rarity at one time, a sanctuary from prepackaged, industrial tortillas found in almost all other kitchens. But in the intervening years since Real Azteca's discovery, the Bronx has become saturated with quality Mexican establishments and, if you just look carefully, fresh tortillas are not quite so hard to find.
When I returned to the restaurant, where we have enjoyed tortas stuffed with chorizo and egg, I had somehow neglected to eat a single bite of anything all day. Feel free to come here equally hungry, as you'll be served fast. The menu is brief, emphasizing masa snacks, with no daily and only a few weekend specials available: barbacoa, pozole, pancita, and the rarer birria, perhaps but not definitively the only bowl of that delicacy regularly available in the Bronx. For that, we will have to return soon.
With birria out of the question, I placed an order for enchiladas michoacanas ($12). The menu description does not do justice to the platter you receive, nor does it prepare you for the sheer volume of food you just requested. There is, to begin, a pile of pulled chicken, a field of orange rice that is enough to feed a table of three, beans spilling over the side, thick halves of pickled jalapeño and sliced carrots, and underneath a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce dressed in grated cheese and crema, there's the prize. The enchiladas.
Stacked high like diner pancakes, the six tortillas are fried briefly in a mild, earthy tomato and guajillo sauce, then wrapped around a light filling of crumbled salty cotija cheese. Overstuffing an enchilada is not a recipe for success, but here there is no more cheese than you need or want. As they are, the flavors meld together beautifully. The dish goes for quantity, but it does so with skilled construction.
As a solitary diner, you could eat well mostly ignoring everything but the enchiladas, with a dab of beans here and a bite into a pickled chile there. The chicken is fine if underseasoned, with the smaller bits too dry. I could barely finish half my order. Real Azteca's enchiladas michoacans are not, I discovered, something you order alone.
Alongside the enchiladas, I ordered a single sope with carnitas ($3). At a place lauded for making tortillas from scratch, the masa boat did not taste fresh. The carnitas, tender but devoid of crust, were, much like the chicken, underseasoned. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the excellent carnitas at El Atoradero—the best in the city, in my opinion—but these tasted of little more than hints of lesser pork.
It's hard to say if Real Azteca deserves the love it once received. There are some fine Mexican bites to be had in the Bronx, at places like the aforementioned El Atoradero and Estrellita Poblana 3, after all. Still, I'll be returning, with my fingers crossed, for that birria.
1013 East 163rd Street, The Bronx, NY 10459 (map)