When Tulcingo del Valle — named after a small town in the state of Puebla, Mexico — opened on 10th Avenue in 2001, it was one of the city’s early bodega taquerias, offering not only a full line of groceries such as fresh tortillas and prickly pear paddles, but also a modest menu of antojitos like tacos, quesadillas, and sopes. At the time, there were perhaps a dozen such establishments in Hell’s Kitchen and the adjacent Garment Center, many aimed at employees in the fashion and textile industries.
Now few remain, but Tulcingo del Valle has persisted and flourished. A few years after it opened, it annexed a storefront next door as a dining room, and the complement of groceries shrunk to a third of its original size as the restaurant gained avid followers. And lucky for us, the place has remained open for takeout and delivery as other Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood such as Mil Sabores have battened down the hatches.
The menu has expanded over the years, still centered on southern Mexican fare. At its heart are the quintessential dishes of Puebla, among them the cemita. This sandwich native to the city of Puebla features a round, sesame-seeded roll that also contains egg and sometimes cactus pulp. The resulting multi-layer sandwich’s marquee ingredient might be thin breaded beef cutlets, skinless sausage, or — an especial favorite of Pueblans — the dried beef called cecina.
Happily, Tulcingo del Valle assembles a complete line of cemitas, including rarer ones like head cheese and Yucatecan cochinita pibil. I went for the chorizo and potatoes, dreaming of its starchy exuberance. I picked the sandwich ($10.50) up at the restaurant and peddled home on the bumpy bike path that snakes its way among construction sites a mile and a half to my apartment. Could any food item fully survive the delivery process?
Well, the sandwich was a bit bedraggled, but still 90 percent of its true self. It had been made on the oblong roll usually used for a torta, which was understandable given the supply problems restaurants are enduring. The layered sandwich contained pinto beans, white Oaxacan cheese, crumbly sausage, potato cubes, a slurry of smoked chipotle chiles that left an afterburn, plenty of creamy avocado that partly stanched the burn, and, most important of all, papalo leaves. This flavoring tastes like melted tar smells, and provides a unique taste that propels this sandwich and left me wolfing it down with pleasure.
I’d order another of these sandwiches, but next time might find a quiet spot by the river to eat it sooner. Read Jonathan Gold on cemitas here, and check out the entire run of Sandwich of the Week columns here.
Tulcingo del Valle has a particularly efficient website for its free delivery.