Parkchester's enduringly popular Taqueria Tlaxcalli is not wanting for love. The enduringly popular restaurant has gotten plenty of praise over the last few years, most recently sharing the bill with Salvation Taco in a one star review from the New York Times.
While it's not the Bronx's best Mexican restaurant—that would be Carnitas El Atoradero, no contest—we do count it among the cream of the crop. That's in spite of somewhat uneven meals, because when the cooking here shines, the kitchen does honor to Centeōtl.
Whatever your intentions, set your ambitions aside and a place an order for their Gorditas ($7.95). Served as a trio and made fresh to order, they are the restaurant's crowning achievement and a singular presence in the Bronx. I have yet to find an gordita so thoughtfully constructed in this borough. A large part of their appeal is the judiciousness with which they are assembled, neither overstuffed nor oversized.
The gordita's requisite chicarrones do not come in chunks, but small bits and threads applied sparingly. They are no less porcine or crunchy for this, and you appreciate those qualities more for the restraint. There is no lettuce to waste your time, just a compliment of creamy, salty, oozing cheese. The plump disk of masa is shatter-crisp, miraculously greaseless, and divinely redolent of corn. Do not hesitate to dip yours into the chunky tomato and guajillo salsa that comes on the side. It is bright, acidic, smoky, and sneakily hot. Just what these fatties need.
Leave some room, however, for an even rarer treat: Tacos Arabes ($9.95), which also come three to an order when they're available. I've been confused by the relative rarity here of this Lebanese-Mexican street snack, given that it originated in Puebla, home of most of New York's Mexican immigrants.
Like Al Pastor, the pork—most Arab immigrants to Mexico were Christian—is cooked shawarma style. In Puebla, the vehicle of choice for this taco is the pita-like pan arabe, but in New York, flour tortillas suffice. I had hoped to find tacos arabes at Carnitas El Atoradero, the newly minted mecca for Pueblan cooking in this city, but to no avail. When prompted, all owner Lina Chavez would tell me was, "I don't have the sauce." Okay!
Mauricio Gomez, Tlaxcalli's owner, hails from Mexico City, but his restaurant is the only one that, to my knowledge, serves taco arabes in the Bronx. Festooned with a bouquet of bulb onions grilled to a supple softness, they are of a significantly higher order than the ones I sampled at a Myrtle Avenue bodega in Bushwick, despite a substandard flour tortilla.
Yes, they could learn a thing or two from the cooks down at Seis Vecinos, who make fat, deliciously chewy flour tortillas to order, and start from scratch. But the filling of crispy, salty pork in a citrusy, invigoratingly spicy, and pleasantly earthy sauce offers more than enough distraction. It is the kind of food you wish were sold outside whatever bars you frequent, if only some selfless Poblano would take up that burden.