In the past week I tried three joints in my neighborhood - Los Primos, under the L at Astoria Blvd west of 31st St.; Las Margaritas on the NE corner of B'way and 38th St; and a few doors up from that, the Amerimex Restaurant.
Los Primos I had passed by many times before and seemed in passing little more than your run-of-the-mill taco and torta joint, but recent business in that direction lead me to have a closer look, which revealed a large selection (than most, still less than El Potro and VEL) written rather faintly on a chalkboard set up outside. When I saw a party of gringos dining there, I felt my territory violated, and made it a point to dine there when hunger and a jones for Mexican struck again, and to eat more than all of them combined. Situating myself at the table in front, covered by signs and posters for the most part, I quickly glanced through the picture menu under the plastic tablecloth, reproduced at each seating position. Notable humorous observations included "synchronized" as the translation for syncronizadas, and a picture of a to-go cup of coffee superimposed in the background of various dishes, the most appropriate perhaps being "Aunt Jemimas Pancakes". All along I thought she was Black rather than Mexican, and it is here I discover that the famous brand originated as a signature dish in this obscure tacqueria.
I decide on bean and avocado gorditas, a zucchini bud and corn fungus quesadilla, and cheese flautas (served with rice and beans, I asked for them to hold the rice) - and perhaps because of the amount of food am withheld chips and salsa. While at El Potro the dishes were served in succession, it was brought all at once here, which took away a little bit from the ability to savor the food. The flautas were nicely presented and adequately spiced, flaky and crisp, yet with the cheese a bit tough (i prefer the texture soft and oozing). They were tucked enough at the seams to keep the cheese from burning, which is a pet peeve of mine. Good, yet done better at El Porto. The gorditas were a bit blah. You might expect that when you order beans and avocado, however I still expected a bit of salad in there as well, and perhaps some grated cheese. The actual gordita itself was a bit on the starchy side, a fell that it could have taken a bit more heat. I tried to order one, but the waitress kept insisting on the three to an order, and I failed to make the request actualized (having started in Spanish, I felt reverting to English would be weak - I did plead that one gordita be served though; I mean, they could have made an exception with the amount of food being ordered by one person). The quesadilla I would write about, nay, FedEx one to my uncle (by wedlock) in Mexico. Yeah, it was that good. And pricey. Sevens bucks for a single filling and eleven for two... big and soft, beautifully seasoned, and grilled/griddled (rather than deep fried). What seemed off about it was perhaps the two fillings were separated in two halves, the zucchini buds being of a texture suggesting that they were fresh. The joint may seem dingy and small with prices a bit higher than many Mexican joints in that proximity, however what struck me was the amount of employees (on a lazy Sunday afternoon). Two cocinieros, two meseras, a runner, a dishwasher, and a guy (the manager/owner perhaps) stocking the beverage cooler. They do deliver, however cold melted cheese is just about as good as refried potatoes.
Las Margaritas I have many times before talked down, without trying the fare there. So to be fair I did, last night. With the meal still fresh in my mind (and in my mind alone, for to say that any measure had been put forth to prepare the meal from scratch would be a stretch), I have to say that things could have been much worse than I expected. The decor, as has been pointed out before, is quite festive. When the weather permits, a double door on the side is opened up on 38th St. And there was more selection than I had anticipated. The chips were rustically cut in several shapes and sizes, and passable (I was slightly amused to find a hardened wedge of lime in the basket). The salsa seemed perhaps prepared in house. For those that wish to sample more than one kind of dish, there are combination platters, which I see more often at establishments that cater to gringos. As I was eating late and wished to dine light, I felt one platter would more than suffice, and it did. An enchilada de queso in mole poblano sauce (certainly jarred), a sopa de queso, and a chile relleno. The chile relleno was more authentic than Tierras Mexicanas on 36th Ave, yet less so than Tulcingo on B'way east of Crescent. The sauce was decent if dull. And the cheese was somewhat still stiff. The sopa and enchilada were initially brought with chicken (after establishing that tamales were out of the question since they contained chicken, and I wished to avoid chicken, the waitress had asked me if I wanted seafood as a filling - to which I responded that I wanted only cheese), and so the platter was taken back and fully replaced even though I had already finished the sopa (after picking out the chicken) and the chile relleno. The platter was replaced a bit too fast, even considering there was one party of two besides myself. The cheese was even stiffer this time around (and cold in the center of the enchilada). I simply fail to see why one would choose to eat here rather than across the street at the bare-bones (with an open kitchen, though) Tacos Mexico, or even a few blocks east and west to VEL and El Potro, respectively.
Or practically next door, at the Amerimex Restaurant. The fare served here is typical diner food with a minimal menu and a few Mexican options. The tamales, available weekends, are verde (pork), rajas (chicken), queso (cheese), and dulce (sweet, with raisins). The setting lacks pretension and is a great option for breakfast/brunch on the weekends for those seeking a breakfast/brunch option without having to encounter your typical bourgeoisie breakfast/brunch crowd. As the whole front of the shop is window, the room is flooded with natural light.