Welcome to Ask Eater, a column from Eater New York where the site’s editors, reporters, and critics answer specific or baffling restaurant requests from readers and friends. A new question and answer will run every Thursday. Have a question for us? Submit your question in this form.
I’ve been dying to find a place that can serve me a real, LA-style cheese enchilada or smothered burrito. There’s a litany of places in New York City that are serving glammed-up mole or green chicken enchiladas that are serviceable, but I’ve got an intense desire to find those cheese enchiladas at a place that recognizes that lettuce is not a staple of Mexican food. Lupe’s East LA Kitchen was the closest I’ve found to what should be right, but it’s just not quite there flavor-wise.
Cheese Enchiladas Like East LA’s
This is a question I often get from homesick Angelenos, and I’ll have to admit, nothing here quite matches the Mexican food of East LA (especially the spicy stew called birria). We haven’t quite achieved the luxuriance of its cheese enchiladas or burritos mojados. Nevertheless, I can give you one great suggestion for each.
For the cheese enchiladas, there are upstart Tex-Mex places like Javelina and Avenida in abundance, but I don’t think either quite hits the mark. Rather, you should go to one of the Mexican restaurants that predated the influx of Mexican immigrants to New York City, and used as their models the Mexican cooking of California and Texas. I’m talking about places with pictures of Pancho Villa on the walls, with a frozen margarita machine prominently displayed.
El Cantinero has been on University Place near 11th Street under one name or another at least since the late ’70s. Seek out a table in the rooftop atrium if weather permits, festooned with cut-paper pennants and Mexican flags. And order the cheese enchiladas, which feature three corn or flour tortillas stuffed with cheese (or ground beef if you prefer), then smothered in cheese sauce and chili gravy and sided with refried beans and yellow rice.
For the burrito mojado, we must look in another direction. When Pueblans came here in the late 80s, they set up bodega taquerias that featured southern Mexican style antojitos, or snacks. But gradually they began to add Mexican-American favorites like nachos and burritos, with the burritos patterned after ones from California. At Santa Ana Deli on Irving Avenue at Stockholm Street in Bushwick, the so-called burrito Santanero is just what you’re looking for: a burrito with your choice of fillings smothered in three sauces. California-style, tell them to hold the rice for maximum authenticity.
Thanks for your question and please let me know if you like these two excellent dishes.