Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Pequeña

86 South Portland Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

I constantly complain about there not being any good Mexican restaurants in New York City. I'm not the only one to say that, I've heard this from many people. You would never expect that such a popular cuisine, in one of the food capitals of the world, would be so disappointing. Ok, I have to admit that I'm a fan of the hyperbole and often find myself making statements that more than likely are exaggerations; "There's no good Mexican in NY" is one of these statements. The truth is that I've found a few gems that can hold up to the best restaurants in California; Pequeña in Fort Greene, Brooklyn is one these places.

I've been living in Brooklyn for three years. I recently moved to the mean streets of Bushwick (but seriously, these are the mean streets. No cute hipsters around here trying to prove something or other). Previously, I lived in Fort Greene. The thing I miss most about no longer living there are the great restaurants, especially my beloved Pequeña.

Pequeña means "tiny" and tiny it is. There are about six small crowded tables that seat two people each and an outside area that seats about 10 more people. The decor is a hodge podge of Mexican items. There are decorative plates on the walls and it's dimly lit by sconces and multi-colored lights. My favorite part are the Alebrijes hanging from the ceiling. Alebrijes are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. My dad has been making his own for about 20 years now. When I see them outside of my home or Mexico, they bring back fond memories of my dad standing at his work table, creating beautiful monstrosities.

What it lacks in size, it makes up in flavor. My favorite item on the menu is the Pork Enchiladas with Red Sauce. The pork is always really tender, savory, and juicy. The red sauce is a tomato-based chili sauce that is perfectly seasoned and just mild enough to not overwhelm the rest of the dish. They are garnished with melted oaxaca cheese, salty "queso fresco" and fresh cilantro. If you make your order a "Main," they serve it with black beans and rice. For some odd reason, in NY, most Mexican restaurants serve black instead of pinto beans, which are the customary bean to use. My hypothesis (adjusts glasses) is that since there is a larger Caribbean population here, people are not as used to pinto, so restaurants use the more familiar black beans. I move on to the rice. Oh, the rice. I'm pretty sure it comes from a box. This seems to be a common problem in this city, and I don't understand why. So, either I'm just jumping to conclusions, or there is one shared recipe amongst Latin American restaurants here because I've had that exact same rice at so many places. My other observation, that has led me to this conclusion, is that the rice doesn't "blossom" like homemade rice should. Now that I've gone on for probably too long about their rice, the good news is that it's the only issue I have with their food. Go with a big appetite because their menu is full of delicious Mexican dishes, some traditional and some with a bit of a twist.

Pequeña's comfy atmosphere and extremely flavorful dishes make sitting elbow-to-elbow with a stranger worth it. A few things to note are that they only accept cash and also, if you're in the mood for margaritas, you'll be paying a lot for not very much booze. Not to worry, there are plenty of bars in the neighborhood to guzzle down some No No juice.


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