Friday, August 11, 2006

Tehuitzingo - My Favorite Bodega

With over 10,000 bodegas in the five boroughs, it’s hard to say why one stands out from others. Most of them have the same layout, products and service, making them a homogenous collection of old tiling, Boar’s Head deli meats and over-worked counter service. Despite their uniformity, every once in a while one of these joints is a beacon of light in a sea of mediocrity. It could be that its preparations range from the obscure to the internationally renowned, or that the sandwich maker is a culinary artist, or it is a specialty bodega that carries ethnic food, drinks and novelties or that the guy behind the counter has a funny way of ringing up a coffee and an egg sandwich. Whatever the reason, if you live in New York long enough, you come to love and depend on bodegas for food, drinks and efficiency of service.

About two weeks ago I had heard a rumor of a Mexican bodega in Hell’s Kitchen that made incredible tacos. Rumor had it that at the back of the store, one could find two women, a minuscule kitchen and some of the greatest and most genuine Mexican food in town. So with a little research and a few trusty compadres, we struck out in search of some bona fide tacos at a little bodega called Tehuitzingo.

I had been warned to keep my eyes peeled for Tehuitzingo and the warning was accurate. It was tucked between a row of nondescript stores and restaurants, itself being nothing more than a small store front, identified by a small sign. Upon entry, two physical aspects struck us: the narrow, compact nature of the store and the delectable, olfactory ambiance streaming from the kitchen. We immediately followed our noses to the back of the store, only stopping to pick up glass-bottled sodas (which were “hecho en Mexico”, that means they are made with cane sugar). The scene in the back was quaint and compressed. The kitchen was tucked away in a cubby-hole, set into the far wall. There was a large mirror, but the small, stool-packed counters quickly dissolved any illusion of space. After a quick glance at the menu, I delivered my order through broken Spanish, pointing and pantomime.

With the exception of the corn tortillas, everything is prepared fresh and on-site, which meant a bit of a wait. I was famished, so I ordered three tacos and hoped that they would do the trick. The wait was mostly worth it. Each taco is prepared with meat and a simple garnish of fresh cilantro and chopped onions, wrapped in two tortillas. For added flavor, there is a salsa, lime and pepper bar, which was needed on all of the tacos (my method was a small dollop of salsa, a squirt of lime juice and a few peppers).

I started with the Suadereo ($2, beef belly), which was small cubes of yellow, rubbery, flavorless pieces of fatty beef that pleased neither the palate nor the olfactory nerves. Next up was the Barbacoa ($2.50, goat), which contained long strips of grayish, slightly sinewy meat that packed a strong salty taste, with tender notes of smokiness. Finally I ate the Chicharron ($2.50, pork skin), which included small bits of salty, fried skin, with tasty morsels of pork, speckled with flavorful fat. The Chicharron was by far the best taco, with crispy texture and sweet, brackish flavors.

Despite my initial hunger, I struggled to finish all three, and eventually wound up removing the second tortilla from each taco. The three tacos and soda cost me a whopping $8.50 and I was so full, that I skipped dinner that night. As I paid for my meal, the man at the counter commented on how he liked my beard and how he was trying to grow one of his own. We chatted for a few minutes, exchanging tips and stories about facial hair, then he gave me my change and I left. Without a doubt, that exchange was the friendliest interaction I had ever had with a counter guy since I’d moved to the city. So even without the delicious food, the friendly service and the affordable prices, Tehuitzingo has become my favorite bodega in New York.

Tehuitzingo is located at 695 10th Ave in New York City.


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