Hey fellow SoCal transplants – this post is for you. Or really, for anyone who originally hails from the American southwest (excluding Texas and their bootleg “Tex-Mex” cuisine) and has been missing legit Mexican food.
Now, I know that Mexican food is a highly controversial topic. First of all – can it even be called authentic Mexican food if it’s not actually made…in Mexico? Secondly, Californians and Texans alike will both claim that their proximity to our southern neighbor establishes them as the de facto next-in-line heir to the throne for the best place to get Mexican food outside its country of origin. I’ve debated many a Texan friend about this highly polarizing issue, and at the end of the day, we simply agree to disagree. Having never been to Texas, I can only speak as one who spent the better part of her adolescence in the heart of Southern California, where Taco Tuesdays were an unquestionable weeknight staple, and my friends and I would regularly drive down to Pedro’s in San Clemente before hitting up the beach.
As I told my boyfriend, I have not found a single place with comparable Mexican food outside of Southern California. HOWEVER…our recently-discovered Astoria gem, El Mero Mero, certainly comes close.
We discovered this restaurant at the recommendation of Astoria local Kambri Crews, the owner of the popular “after school space for adults” QED. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kambri for an article on Hedonist/Shedonist, and when I asked her about some of her favorite places to eat in the neighborhood, El Mero Mero was one of the first spots she listed.
Walking around one evening around dinner time, my boyfriend and I happened to see El Mero Mero on the corner of 35th Ave and 38th Street, right next to the movie theater.
We took a look at the menu and popped in, figuring it was worth a shot. We were not disappointed. The ingredients are fresh and everything is house made – including their black grape infused tequila, homemade mole sauce for enchiladas, and complimentary (a big deal in New York!!) chips and salsa.
Their guac is seriously some of the best I’ve had in the city – so simple but SO good, with slight chunks of avocado just the way I like it. Their chips are made from fresh corn tortillas sliced into strips and fried, thick and crispy and able to hold up a decent bite of guacamole.
We’ve tried a few dishes, but always keep coming back to the same:
Taquitos Dorados (pictured below) & Guacamole
The taquitos are seriously SO. GOOD. Tortillas are stuffed with chicken, tightly rolled up and then deep fried, before being topped with crema and cheese and fresh pico de gallo. It’s one of my favorite things on the menu.
El Vampiro & Classic Patron Margarita
I always go for the classic magarita, but my boyfriend always goes for El Vampiro and swears by it. Not sure what’s in it but it has “lots of alcohol,” he assures me.
Chilaquiles Verdes (lightly fried tortillas with grilled chicken, a tangy green tomatillo sauce, and crema). This is probably my go-to main dish at the restaurant, mostly because every time we’ve gone, my boyfriend orders it and I always end up stealing more of it than I should…
Equally delicious and comes with a side of rice and beans – enough for dinner plus lunch the next day! Oh, and did I mention that cute little flower is edible?
Besides the fact that the food is BOMB, the staff is SO incredibly kind and welcoming. We’ve been back a few times and they’ve begun to recognize us (Hey, Vanessa!) – even offering us a couple of shots of tequila on the house on our second (and third…) visit.
El Mero Mero is casual, low key, not super crowded – so PLEASE do me a favor and go and check it out, to make sure that it doesn’t face the fate of many other amazing NYC restaurants and close down prematurely! (I have a terrible knack for going to places that shut down almost immediately after I visit them). But also…don’t all check it out at once, ’cause I kinda like not having to wait in a ridiculous NYC line on a Saturday night.
Fellow SoCal transplants – have you found anything comparable to the Mexican food that we got
spoiled by accustomed to out West? If so, PLEASE share in the comments!