The Russian-speaking enclave of Brighton Beach may conjure up images of caviar, fur-storage centers, and fading pastel hued high rise condos of a beach resort that never was. But once you walk the streets of Neptune Avenue, signs of diversity are apparent: women in colorful saris leading their children to school, Pakistani kebab restaurants and Georgian bakeries along side streets, and a small but vibrant pocket of Mexican-American life.
El Jarochito is one of the signs. The Jarochito company has anchored the community since 1993 with their grocery and panaderia, a Mexican-style bakery that has a taqueria in back. The bakery, which also sells Mexican products, is exceptionally well curated: bins of chiles, dried spices, and fresh herbs are organized with the methodical exactitude of a 19th century apothecary's. There are tiny green tomatillos the size of gumballs, purple ayocote beans, and flaky tan quills of canela, a soft cinnamon that splinters into fragrant shards.
Past the line of tortillas in a dozen different brands, there's a logjam of fried chicharones on a giant tray. The fried pork skins are golden sheets of crunch, with crackly bubbles and porcine crevasses, dusted with ground chile and salt, to be piled into paper bags and squeezed with lime. Bet you can't eat just one.
At the taqueria in back there's a high counter and a row of stools where customers eat stacked tostadas ($3) and tortas ($4) on house-baked rolls. There are daily guisados ($6), stews like braised pork in a smoky red chile sauce or cecina—a salted beef that fully engages the jaw—draped in a green tomatillo broth with stewed nopales, ladled over rice and beans. Tacos ($2) are very good, cylindrically wrapped around carnitas, chicken, or goat barbacoa, and served with limes, grilled cambray onions, and a creamy avocado salsa with beguiling heat.
Next to the lunch counter, bakers pull trays of cocol, a yeasted bread studded with sesame seeds, from the oven, while sprinkling grated coconut over assorted cakes. On your way out, grab a concha, a bread with a sugary, crackly crust, and head for the beach.
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