It was a tragedy when Corona’s Taqueria Sinaloense closed a year ago, a small cafe with a giant map of Mexico painted on the wall. It served the signature dishes of Sinaloa, a state that runs along the Gulf of California opposite the Baja Peninsula. The food there is quite different than what we’re accustomed to, since much of New York City Mexican fare originated in Puebla and elsewhere in the South. In fact, two of Sinaloa’s most important recipes, chilorio and machaca, are almost unknown here. The first is a dense braise of beef in dried red chiles; the second a delectable beef jerky that’s also common in the southwestern United States. When Taqueria Sinaloense disappeared, those two were most acutely missed.
The chef was America Rodriguez, who grew up in El Rosario in southern Sinaloa. She got the recipes from her mother. Three months ago she took a new gig at Mi Dulce Mexico, on 97th Street just east of Junction Boulevard in Corona. This combination bakery and casual restaurant is the successor to Veyta’s, a similar establishment that had long been a neighborhood fixture. The selection of baked goods for sale reflects the shifting population of Corona going back a half century and more, including Italian butter cookies, Jewish bagels, Puerto Rican layer cakes, Dominican pasteles, German strudel, and Mexican rainbow gelatin desserts.
Against the picture windows a broad glass case of more recent vintage has been placed, fully stocked with Mexican pan dulce, the sweet rolls in multiple shapes, including conchas, orejas, and bigotes, many topped with pink or beige sugar. As with the previous establishment, the sprawling menu concentrates on Pueblan and American fare, including burgers, pancakes, cemitas, flautas, nachos, tacos, and larger meals of cecina, carnitas, and pollo milanesa.
But a handmade sign framed on the wall advertises a series of specialties of Sinaloa and Baja, owing to the advent of America Rodriguez, and some of these dishes are now listed on the regular menu — but look to the wall for the current list. The chilorio ($14) is every bit as good as it was at the previous place, chunky and chewy after many preparation steps, with a slight sour taste owing to a dash of vinegar, and a gentle nudge of Mexican oregano. It comes with pale refried beans that have pork tidbits mixed in. Lard is wielded with a generous hand.
At the new place there’s machaca, too, an ingredient I enjoyed while living in Austin. Here you can have it scrambled with eggs and pico, either on a platter or in tacos. “I lived for a while in Baja,” the chef told us by way of introducing the Baja-style fish tacos ($3) brought to the table soon after. She’d put them on corn tortillas, which may not be traditional, but they sure were some of the best in town; the tacos came additionally topped with shredded purple cabbage, a thick crema, and guacamole.
Another Baja dish was shrimp aguachile ($12.50), a splendid big plate of raw shrimp awash in lime juice and either green or red salsa, with cucumbers mixed in and sliced avocado on top, one of the prettiest plates I’ve seen recently. It would be especially refreshing with a beer by the beach. Shrimp also make an appearance in a taco de camaron enchilado, smeared with a wonderful salsa of almonds and peanuts that the chef herself had invented, as she told us.
In adjacent Jackson Heights, long lines form at the Birria-Landia truck, and Mi Dulce Mexico turns out its own version of Tijuana-style birria, too. It comes in a soup bowl ($11) with outsize hunks of beef, and a powerful red broth the equal of the truck’s. Though more soup than stew, it comes with chile-dipped corn tortillas, onions, cilantro, and lime, along with the restaurant’s red and green salsas. As some friends and I left after a memorable Saturday afternoon meal, we reflected that it’s great New York City once again has an enthralling destination for Sinaloan food.