Late in 2013 Lina Chavez caused a citywide sensation by opening her tiny cafe Carnitas El Atoradero on 149th Street in the South Bronx. It was right next door to a bodega of nearly the same name, where, amid a jumble of Mexican groceries, Chavez and her crew of neighborhood women from several Spanish-speaking countries would cook up delicacies such as albondigas (meatballs), mole poblano, huaraches, and especially carnitas.
These were not the desiccated bits of stringy pork that usually go by that name, but big plump morsels that had been long-stewed in a giant cauldron in a bubbling beige sauce. That pot was always stirring on Saturdays, and it made the South Bronx’s sweetest and most delicious sight, particularly when incorporated into her hand-fashioned picaditas.
Chavez ran into landlord troubles early in 2015, and the new taqueria was taken over by other proprietors by that summer. Several seasoned restaurateurs stepped forward to assist, and by December 2015 Chavez had a new home in Prospect Heights on Washington Avenue, which has recently become something like Brooklyn’s brunch central. But early word of mouth on the new place — also called El Atoradero — was not very positive. It was perhaps too easy to believe that a very talented cook had difficulty making the transition from Bronx bodega to Brooklyn bistro.
Thus I postponed my visit a couple of months, until news that weekend brunch was commencing attracted me and a friend from Mexico City to El Atoradero. We went on a Saturday around noon and found a narrow storefront with a bright green façade and picture windows sporting a neon logo that featured a pineapple. Inside, a bar and a dining room flaunted walls of bare brick with bright green and yellow accents that wrapped around a kitchen visible through a window. The place smelled wonderful, but half the 40-seat interior was empty while other establishments in the vicinity were thronged.
Our extended brunch turned out to be spectacular. With Chavez presiding in the kitchen assisted by two other cooks — making the kitchen almost as tight as it had been in the bodega — we commenced with a plainish but perfect bowl of chicken consomme ($12) floating chopped onions and cilantro, with chickpeas and dark-meat poultry pieces in its depths: a perfect hangover soup. The three homemade salsas that accompanied were a little milder than the ones we remembered in the Bronx. Next up was a quartet of chicken enchiladas ($14) in a red salsa that was much spicier. The tortillas were blue and homemade and as perfect as tortillas get. We used some that came on the side to sop the salsa roja.
The highlight of our meal came from a six-item egg section ($10 per dish). Huevos divorceados ("divorced eggs") featured a pair of fried eggs with damp orange centers immersed in two salsas. The red was relatively mild, but the pale green was incendiary. A good quantity of refried beans and pile of blue tortillas made the dish a satisfying meal. It was delightful, and every bit as good as anything we’d sampled at the old Carnitas El Atoradero.
Naturally, we had to try the carnitas. Unfortunately, there were no picaditas, so we settled for a taco ($4). And, I’m happy to report, the porky tidbits were as delicious as they had been 13 miles northwest in the Bronx. Other brunch offerings included burritos, tortas, flautas, chilaquiles, and guacamole. We left mightily satisfied and vowing to return during evening dining hours to check out dinner. 708 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, 718-399-TACO