New York City is rich in regional Mexican fare, and it just got richer. Purepecha is the name of a three-month-old restaurant in Cobble Hill that offers fare from the Mexican state of Michoacan. It’s a project of Sandra and Willson Lopez, siblings from Michoacan, the latter acting as the chef. They also operate a Frida Kahlo themed restaurant in Greenpoint called Friducha, which debuted two years ago. While there’s little remarkable about the bill of fare at Friducha, I noticed several dishes on Purepecha’s posted menu that got me excited as I strolled by one evening, including carnitas.
As you enter the restaurant, there’s a bar on the right, tables on the left and, further inside, more tables and a prep kitchen wherein guacamole is made to order in a volcanic stoneware molcajete. Opposite the bar glows a magnificent colorful mural with such motifs as a sugar skull, ear of maize, agave cactus, and woman with a baby bundled on her back. The bar offers Mexican beers, red and white wines from California, France, and Argentina, and strong cocktails, including a freshly made margarita not poured premade from a bottle.
The Purepecha are an indigenous group that emerged in Central Mexico in pre-colonial times, with a culture and dialect distinct from the Aztecs. Despite the restaurant’s name, the menu doesn’t serve dishes of the Purepecha, but ones more generally associated with Michoacan. The foremost of these is carnitas. This pile of fried and fibrous pork tidbits is common enough in area taquerias, but was popularized here in vastly improved form by Denisse Lina Chavez at El Atoradero. She got the recipe from a Michoacan relative, whereby cubes of meat are fried in a cauldron bubbling with lard, making a rich confit.
Purepecha offers some distinctively good carnitas, too, though maybe not quite as good as Chavez’s. The carnitas at Purepecha are like an intensely flavorful pulled pork, in which swine provides both substance and its own seasoning, with just a hint of sour lime. Carnitas Michoacanas tacos ($11) tosses the meat into three soft corn tortillas and nearly eclipses it with thick guacamole, the way these tacos are served back home. Ask for the incendiary salsa verde. Alternately, you can have the same carnitas stuffed inside tacos dorados ($10), a trio of rolled and fried tortillas topped with a crema-hosed haystack of shredded lettuce.
A more-obscure specialty is the Maruata taco (three for $16), named after a cliffside beach town on Michoacan’s Pacific coast. These feature fried fish heaped with lettuce, pico, and chipotle mayo, something like the fish tacos of Baja. Supposedly, these tacos are often sold out of baskets by children on the beach. The version at Purepacha proves superb, and will transport you to the coast.
If grilled shrimp is more to your liking than fried fish, check out the shrimp quesadilla ($15). This is not a southern Mexican quesadilla, which is like a taco made on a giant, hand-patted corn tortilla. This is the bar food quesadilla more familiar here: two flour tortillas with grilled shrimp and melted cheese in between. Other Mexican-American staples on the menu include burritos; fajitas; a burger topped with Oaxacan cheese, bacon, and jalapenos; and french fries and nachos that come heaped with a similar roster of predictable toppings.
But my favorite dish on a pair of visits was something called enchiladas placeras ($11). In a recipe attributed to the Lopezes’ grandmother, tortillas are first dipped in a red, tomato-based sauce, then rolled around refried beans and sprinkled with dried Cotija cheese from the state of Michoacan and more of that mild and tasty sauce, to make a very humble version of enchiladas indeed. One can easily imagine a grandma making them for her adoring grandkids.
Wait! Don’t skip dessert, either. The whipped-cream-dabbed flan ($7.50) is as thick as you might wish, the churros served hot and squirted with dulce de leche. There’s little of unique nature among the bigger plates on the menu, but believe me, you won’t miss them. 213 Smith St, between Baltic and Butler streets, Cobble Hill