You simply can’t live in New York City and prescribe to the hackneyed conclusion that Mexican food is merely multiple permutations of beans, cheese, and meat. In fact, there are numerous, distinctive dishes crafted out of masa (nixtamalized corn dough) alone. So expand your horizons beyond tacos, nachos and burritos, and learn to tell your memelas from your molotes and your tlacoyos from your tlayudas (and further explore the antojitos of places like El Salvador), with this inclusive guide to antojitos—or “little cravings”—and where to find them in Brooklyn, of course.
A specialty of South-Central Mexico (not Taco Bell) chalupas are crisp, shallow masa bowls formed around molds, and filled with shredded meats, chopped onions, and salsa.
El Atoradero, Los Tres Potrillos, La Foca Taqueria, Las Margaritas
Meaning “flutes,” flautas are comprised of burrito-sized tortillas (generally flour but occasionally corn) that are rolled into cones around fillings and deep-fried.
Alma, La Superior, Taqueria Milear, Cholulita
Similar to South American arepas, these small “chubby” masa cakes are cooked in a comal, split on one side, and stuffed with various stews, beans, cheeses and salsa.
Xixa, New Mexico Place, Citrico, El Pollito Mexicano
Also the name of a popular Mexican sandal, these pan-fried, oblong masa patties are topped like pizzas, with chopped meat, fresh vegetables and crema.
El Penacho, Taqueria Acatlan, Taco Santana, Taqueria Cocoyoc
Originating in Oaxaca, flattened, palm-sized discs of masa are pinched around the edges before griddling; the better to contain additions of mole negro, queso fresco and cabbage.
Country Boys, Tacos and Burritos Grill, Fonda, Gran Electrica
Served in both Mexico and Spain, the south of the border version consists of sliced and hollowed white bread packed with refried beans, topped with cheese and hot peppers, and broiled until brown and melted.
La Vara, Mesa Coyoacan, La Villita
The name may be strikingly similar to the above, but don’t expect French bread pizza if you order molotes. This is dough made from masa and mashed potatoes, filled with beef stew, formed into ovals and fried in hot oil.
Casa Vieja, Luz de Luna #2, El Centenario
The pride of El Salvador, these thick, hand-patted corn tortillas are alternately filled with queso, loroco flowers or meat ground into a paste, then griddled and served with curtido, and cabbage slaw fermented with red chilies and vinegar.
Solber Pupusas, El Olomega, Bahia, Restaurant Salvadoreno Usuluteco
Also from the Yucatan (and believed to be the progenitor of the enchilada) this ancient Mayan specialty features corn tortillas moistened in pumpkin seed sauce, wrapped around hard boiled eggs, and ladled with a cooked puree of tomatoes and chiles.
Largely identical to memelas (the Oaxacan name for sopes) these thick, fist-sized masa cakes with slightly raised edges are flash-fried until only the exterior surface is cooked, and cradle beans, cheese, chicken and red or green sauce.
Tacos El Bronco, Coszcal De Allende, Ines Bakery, Taqueria Izucar
Although the bastardized American version has come to refer to floppy flour tortillas sandwiched with melted cheddar and sliced into wedges, handmade corn tortillas are what you should look for in an authentic quesadilla; folded into a half-moon around squeaky Oaxacan string cheese or even huitlacoche; otherwise known as corn smut.
Lucha Lucha, Chilo’s, Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos, Carino
Sustaining the Aztec and Mayan civilizations as far back as 8000 BC (due to their perfect portability) tamales consist of starchy masa dough encasing meats, fruits, cheeses, vegetables or chiles, and steamed inside of a corn husk or banana leaf.
Reyes Deli & Grocery, Tacos Matamoros, Evelyn Mini Market, Don Paco Lopez Panaderia
Not to be confused with flautas, taquitos are made from small corn tortillas, rolled into narrow cigars around fillings, and fried until crisp.
Ricos Tacos, Taquitos Mexico, Surfish, Café de la Esquina
Traditionally, these extra-thick, torpedo-shaped cakes are made without any lard or salt in the batter, and served without toppings save for fresh salsa, although present-day vendors frequently adorn them as they would huaraches and sopes.
Taqueria El Fogon, Tacos El Catrin, Mesa Coyoacan, El Centenario
A staple Oaxacan street snack, tlayudas are formed from extra-large, paper-thin tortillas that are cooked until blistered and crispy on a comal or wood grill, and covered with pureed beans and other toppings.
Oaxaca Taqueria, La Loba Cantina
Although the name means “toasted,” tostadas can also refer to tortillas that have been fried flat or shaped into shallow bowls, and piled with seafood and ceviche, meat, beans and cheese, or, alternately, dipped in sour cream and served alongside soups and stews, such as menudo or pozole.
El Super, La Taqueria De Los Muertos, El Tenampa Deli Grocery, La Slowteria