We've covered the carnitas at El Atoradero a fair amount in this column, and for good reason. Whole-hog style and cut into cubes, it's some of the most delicious in this city.
With winter on the way, Lina and her cooks are adding three seasonal specials to the usual suspects of antijos, pupusas, and tamales. The chief draw on these cold days is a fantastic pancita ($4 for small, $8 for a large), that infamous tripe soup more commonly known as menudo.
In Mexico, there are several stock varieties of menudo. (Diana Kennedy lists six recipes from across the country in her Essential Cuisines of Mexico alone.) Some variations have clear broths, others go heavy on the herbs. In the north, hominy or pozole are sometimes added. Stateside, the soup is famously caricatured as a folk cure for biting hangovers and seen as little more.
But menudo's roots go much deeper. Its appearance as a weekend special in New York's Pueblan restaurants seems to be as much a concession to the labor involved as it is to the dish's ritual significance as something to gather the family around.
At El Atoradero, they cook a guajillo-spiked menudo de roja, the symbol of the city of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, with cow's foot thrown in for body. Despite what the red hue may suggest, this is a mild soup. The flavor instead is lusciously sweet, carefully drawn out over a long morning, with a rich and silky texture. It's as if the broth clings to your tongue, reminding you that you are never alone. There is plenty of tripe packed in there, too, cooked to a palatable chewiness, not that off-putting sponginess that less experienced cooks produce. But this is not a soup for the faint of heart. The tripe's intense funkiness is left unmasked, rising in pungent wafts.
There are hot beverages, too, including a relative rarity in New York City: cafe de olla. (The only other restaurant I have managed to score the beverage is at Bronx mini-chain Estrellita Poblana 4). Traditionally brewed in an adobe pot, cafe de olla is coffee sweetened with piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) and flavored with Mexican cinnamon. Some may find it too sweet; others lust after it. For those in the mood for a more youthful beverage, there is the chocolate flavored atole champurrado. Enhanced with more cinnamon, it's relatively thin.
Still, the pancita is what's worth rolling out of bed for. There are, of course, those delicious picaditas if you're looking for a quick snack to munch on first. But you can get those babies any time of the year. Keep your eyes on the prize.
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