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Historians Map the Glorious Rise of Mexican Food in New York City

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Plus, elected officials in the Bronx renew calls for indoor dining — and more intel

A photograph of six tacos on a wooden table, with some of its paint removed. Various fillings appear in tortillas on paper plates, including avocado, meats, cilantro, and onion Robert Sietsema/Eater

The history of Mexican food in New York City, mapped

A new interactive website documents the history of Mexican restaurants, food trucks, and tamale pushcarts in New York City. The project, which comes from a team of Latinx historians at Stony Brook University, tracks the rise of one of the city’s most storied and beloved cuisines, from just a handful of establishments in the early 1980s to today’s count of close to 1,000 Mexican restaurants. It’s a “digital love letter to Mexican food,” says Lori Flores, a professor at the university who spearheaded the project.

The map is designed to be interactive, and viewers can use a time slider to move through the decades in New York City, select a specific neighborhood or street, and track the number of Mexican restaurants that opened over the last 90 years. More restaurants will be added to the map over time and users can request additions or submit feedback through its online website.

From the many taco trucks and tortillerias that line New York City’s streets, it’s not immediately apparent that Mexican food is a recent addition to the city’s dining scene. While cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio, or Chicago have historically boasted larger Mexican populations, many of New York City’s Mexican immigrants did not arrive in the city until the late 1980s and early 1990s, prompted by a series of international developments and crises. In the 1980s, the United States had roughly 2,500 Mexican restaurants, just 150 of them in the Northeast. Four decades later, Mexicans rank among the city’s fastest-growing immigrant groups with close to 1,000 restaurants serving the cuisine in New York City alone.

It still remains to be seen how the coronavirus pandemic will impact that legacy, though. Earlier in the pandemic, business owners who self-identified as Latino — a broad stroke term that also encompasses other descendants of Latin America — reported difficulties receiving loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, while Latinx business owners were almost twice as likely as white business owners to temporarily close their doors during the pandemic. Meanwhile, those who died as a result of working on the frontlines of the city’s food industry are overwhelmingly Mexican men.

In other news

— An abbreviated version of Little Italy’s Feast of San Gennaro will take place at popular neighborhood restaurant Gelso and Grand. Every weekend in September, restaurants including Don Angie, Di Fara, and Regina Grocery will set-up shop at the corner restaurant from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

— Fort Greene’s Colonia Verde has upped its pantry offerings with a new online store called Casa. A greater selection of prepared foods, bottled mezcals, school lunches, and DIY elote kits are available for delivery to all boroughs.

— Electric Lemon, the “destination-worthy” rooftop restaurant perched atop the Equinox Hotel in Hudson Yards, reopened for outdoor dining this week from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

— Volunteers assembled an outdoor dining area on Alexander Avenue in Mott Haven last week, the latest in the Rockwell Group’s ongoing plans to bring outdoor dining areas to the city.

— Gothamist food writer Scott Lynch found mostly wins at Chelsea newcomer Sush1, where sushi is sold by the piece, most for one dollar.

— City Council member Ritchie Torres and Little Italy restaurateurs renewed calls for indoor dining at a press conference in the Bronx over the weekend.

— Kestane Kebab, a decade-old Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant in Greenpoint, plans to open a second location on the corner of Franklin and Huron this fall.

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