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A Dozen Magnificent Mexican Breakfasts

Tortas, burritos, tacos, chilaquiles, and more

Few cuisines offer the breakfast latitude that Mexican does, from a lively range of fried egg platters, to giant heaps of chilaquiles made from last night’s tortillas, to hot tamales, to Texas-style breakfast tacos, to the cudgel-size bean-bearing burritos of California. And then we have the sandwiches called tortas and cemitas, each with its own special breakfast potential, and the colorful sweet rolls known as pan dulce, available in any Mexican bakery. Here, in observation of Eater’s Breakfast Week, we serve up some of the best Mexican breakfasts in town.

Chilaquiles — The classic breakfast in many parts of Mexico, chilaquiles means "in a sauce of chiles" in Nahuatl and consists of crisp tortilla fragments tossed in a pan with salsa and then topped with crumbled cheese and crema, which mellows out the piquancy of the salsa. Spicy, tomatillo-laced green salsa is the most popular, but red, yellow, and even mole poblano are also seen as the lubricating fluid. It’s not uncommon to add a little shredded chicken or dried-beef cecina to the mix, or you can take the dish further in a breakfast direction by topping it with eggs, as they do at Lupita’s on the East Side just south of Harlem. 2049 2nd Ave, (646) 590-4202.

Huevos con Nopal — Paddles of the prickly pear cactus deprived of their spines, singed, skinned, and cut into strips are an important ingredient in Mexican cooking, added to tacos, immersed in clay-pot casseroles, or incorporated into grilled vegetable assemblages called alambres. At Sunset Park’s brick-and-mortar Tacos El Bronco (the name also refers to two famous taco trucks), cactus strips are scrambled with eggs and served with beans, corn tortillas, and a squirtable guacamole. 4324 4th Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 788-2229.

Tacos Placeros — Literally, the name means "market tacos," which may have originated in outdoor markets as a kind of inexpensive shopper’s snack. The state of Morelos seems to be the epicenter, but they are common throughout Central and Southern Mexico, but only appeared in New York City fairly recently. One, found near Junction Boulevard in Jackson Heights at Bella Puebla, contains a boiled egg, whole fried poblano chile, sauteed potatoes, and yellow rice. You almost need to eat it with a fork. 94-11 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, (718) 639-7300.

Pan Dulce — The Spanish introduced wheat to Mexico, but Mexican bakers have made yeast-risen breads all their own. One of the most prominent types is pan dulce, the sweet rolls eaten for breakfast. They come in a variety of shapes, including concha (seashell), besos (kisses), and cuernos (horns), and are often crazed across the top with colored sugars. Fillings can be just contrasting colors of dough, or sometimes jelly, egg custard, or caramel. Any Mexican panaderia in Bushwick, Sunset Park, or East Elmhurst will sell rack upon rack of different types. One of our favorite pan dulce bakeries is Don Paco Lopez in East Harlem, which boasts a small dining room for eating in. 2129 3rd Ave, (212) 876-0700.

Breakfast Tacos — A Mexican-American phenomenon, breakfast tacos first appeared in Austin in the 1980s, or in San Antonio, depending on who you believe. The fillings reflected the fusion of Mexican and American ideas about breakfast, and back in Texas, scrambled eggs, gringo-style sage sausage, and flour tortillas are the rule. Here, when breakfast tacos are imitated, more purely Mexican ingredients like skinless crumbled chorizo and corn tortillas are often substituted, but the result is just as delicious. Located in the food court City Kitchen, old-timer Gabriela’s assembles a bang-up New York version of Texas breakfast tacos. 700 8th Ave, (646) 863-0901.

Huevos Rancheros — "Rancher’s eggs" are nearly ubiquitous in Mexico, and now north of the border, too. Trouble is, there are many competing versions of this meal that originated as a substantial mid-morning feed among caballeros on cattle ranches. The irreducible elements are crisp fried tortillas topped with beans or salsa and two fried eggs, with rice served on the side, sometimes with avocado and pickled chiles. If the two eggs each sports a different salsa, the dish is dubbed "huevos divorciados." Mi Ranchito Poblano serves up some mighty fine huevos rancheros, with a little Oaxacan cheese melted across the top of the eggs as its modest contribution to the canon. 1228 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 282-0366.

Breakfast Tamal — An outsize tamal wrapped in a corn husk or in a banana leaf, Oaxacan style, makes a fine breakfast, whether the thing is filled with chicken, pork, or strips of roasted chile. Choza Taqueria in the Gotham West Market offers a choice of smaller tamales topped with a pleasantly gritty red salsa, queso seco, and a poached egg. The yolk bursts when you cut into it, further inundating the tamal with delectability. 600 11th Ave, (212) 582-7944

Torta — The torta is Mexican sandwich made on a European-style roll that is tapered at both ends, and the quality of the bread varies across the city. East Village fancy Mexican deli Miscelanea uses particularly good, crusty rolls to make a torta out of eggs and spicy chorizo, with lettuce and refried beans as a backdrop. A cup of house-pickled jalapeños comes alongside. Served in a paper coffee cup, the chilaquiles are similarly superb. 63 E 4th St, (212) 253-0277

Super Torta — If you have a gigantic appetite, or would like to share your torta with someone else, opt for the bargain huerfana ("orphan") super torta from Mi Espiguita, under the N tracks in Astoria. Priced at $8.50, it weighs about two pounds, and comes loaded with refried beans, scrambled eggs, white cheese, deli ham, avocado, jalapeños, and thick slices of roast pork. This ample sandwich defines gutbomb. 32-44 31st St, Queens, (718) 777-5648.

Breakfast Burrito — The sainted Downtown Bakery, the East Village’s surest source of cheap Mexican fare, does its own renditions of breakfast tacos and breakfast burritos, the latter featuring several filling choices. My favorite, the burrito de papa, features chunks of fried potatoes in addition to scrambled eggs, jack cheese, and savory black beans. Save half for lunch. 69 1st Ave, (212) 254-1757.

Back-Constructed Breakfast Burritos — While burritos and their breakfast-oriented evocations are a Mexican-American phenomenon invented in California, that doesn’t prevent immigrant restaurateurs from reinventing them in the style of their own regional cuisines. Such is the case with the burrito Guerrero at Sabor A Mexico, filling the flour tortilla up with shredded chicken in the pumpkinseed sauce known as pipian. 160 1st Ave, (212) 533-4002.

San Diego Breakfast Burrito – The breakfast burrito sold from a cart in Chelsea Market mounted by the superb Los Tacos No. 1 is stunning in its simplicity. Wrapped in a flour tortilla tightened as if by an aggressive facelift, it’s filled with only eggs and a choice of meats, in this case beef or chorizo (there’s also a vegetarian option). And the low price reflects the burrito’s rudimentary nature. You won’t spill it on your pants as you dash to work. 75 9th Ave, (212) 256-0343

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