Denisse Chavez — one of my favorite chefs — has opened a concession within a piece of nightlife real estate, a bar and restaurant called Taqueria El Atoradero at Parklife in the burgeoning Third Avenue corridor of the Gowanus neighborhood.
Chavez started her career presiding over a huge, floor-mounted stewpot in the middle of a South Bronx bodega, making the city’s mellowest pork carnitas with the assistance of several local women. Next, she moved down the block to a small Mexican café, attracting admirers from all over the city.
Her breakout was a bistro in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, where she was making her own blue tortillas and adding southern Mexican main courses, but keeping carnitas and other antojito fillings the focus. How does she adapt Mexican cooking straight out of the Boogie-Down to a cocktail bar near Brooklyn’s Venetian canals?
The Parklife location is hard to spot from the street in this former hardscrabble neighborhood of re-purposed factories and warehouses. A high wooden fence greets you with a small chalkboard announcing the presence of a bar. Inside, a courtyard with a beach-y feel features picnic tables and a bar in a shipping container. Inside the premises there’s another bar and an L-shaped counter devoted to Chavez’s new spot.
The menu is playful, centered on tacos, guac and chips, ceviche, nachos, and burritos. The roster of fillings is about the same as it is at her other location, but the food has been modified for barroom consumption. In other words, it’s been transformed into superb drunk food. Take the nachos ($13): In the taqueria’s signature version, shoestring french fries cooked crisper than usual are mobbed with black beans, guacamole, crema, jack cheese, and queso seco, for a triple-dairy whammy. One bite and you’re hooked, even without the carne asada add-on ($3).
The guacamole at Taqueria El Atoradero flows like the green waters of the nearby canal, and there’s a big dab of it next to the well-dressed burrito ($14). Of the nine filling choices (carne asada, suadero, chicken tinga, chorizo and potato, grilled fish, grilled shrimp, purslane poblano, mushroom, and carnitas), we picked the chicken tinga, a chipotle-laced Pueblan classic that gave the wrap a prodigiously spicy kick.
The tacos are made with Chavez’s usual blue-corn tortillas, which are a little thicker than regular tortillas, but thinner than gorditas, which make them perfect for usage in single-tortilla tacos (four for $13). We loved the carnitas taco, each morsel rimmed with fat, but loved the salty and starchy chorizo-and-potato even more. The fish was fine, but we didn’t much like the purslane poblano, since the purslane made for a rather dull filling.
The ceviche was distinguished and pleasantly simple, stocked with octopus and shrimp and served with chips made from those blue corn tortillas. Save for prices perhaps a little on the high side, the food is distinguished, and I’ll be returning soon for another taste of those trashy french-fry nachos. The drinks are worth ordering too, especially a frozen Scotch-and-ginger cocktail that easily stood up to Chavez’s three freshly made salsas.