Eating Good Mexican-American Food In... Greenwich Village?!

Dave Lieberman
I hate driving past signs advertising New York pizza. With a couple of very rare exceptions, it's almost never any good, but people have this einredenish--this self-imposed delusion--that places advertising New York pizza will actually be able to produce the chewy, slightly sour crust, the tangy sauce, and even the cheese.

New Yorkers sneer at our penchant for trying to replicate their hometown pie, and we get our own back by sweetly pointing out that 99 percent of the so-called "Mexican" food available in New York City is complete and utter mierda, an unappetizing and lame attempt to replicate our birthright of tiny tacos, fat burritos, chiles rellenos, pozole and tamales.

While I was back East earlier this month, a friend of mine suggested dinner at Florencia 13, a "Southern Californian Mexican" restaurant near his work in Greenwich Village. I rolled my eyes, figured at least I'd get a good snarky article out of it, and away we went...

...except the snark never came. For once, New York seems to have a Mexican restaurant that got it (mostly) right. The secret? Owners from East Los Angeles who wanted to build a restaurant with the taste of home, and who then named it after a South Los Angeles street gang. (Why not?)

Chips--de rigueur in Mexican-American restaurants--were freshly-fried and very good, and the guacamole was damn near perfect, but the salsa was watery and tomatoey, like Chevy's. Eventually I gave up and asked for some hot sauce to liven it up a little, and was surprised to get a bottle of Valentina.

The menu starts off with a lot of salads, which is odd--you'll never see very many salads on a Mexican restaurant menu around here--but then continues into tacos both soft and crispy, enchiladas, two kinds of chile relleno, flautas, and then moves into "burritos locos" and the familiar old combination plates.

Dave Lieberman
The al pastor tacos were really good. Obviously from a flat top grill and not a trompo, but still spicy and with just the right hit of pineapple on a tortilla that is indistinguishable from any other... but the San Gabriel chile relleno was a hit, with a great picadillo stuffed inside of a perfectly grilled and peeled chile poblano. Had it been doused with walnut cream and pomegranate seeds instead of queso Oaxaca and crema fresca, it could have been a good take on the national dish of Mexico, the chile en nogada.

There's a very good list of not-quite-mass-market tequilas, like Partida and Corralejo, and I asked for a paloma made with Corralejo reposado rather than whatever tequila blanco was on the list, and it came out done right; a later order of a michelada--a thing not very commonly found in New York--was spot-on.

Florencia 13 mostly reminds me of someplace like El Arco Iris, except twice the price. Tacos are a shocking $11 for three, which made my Angeleno eyes water and my wallet ache, and the cheapest dish is a $4 elote asado. Still, this is lower Manhattan, where paying the rent often feels like being bent over a table, and there's no putting a price on a craving.

Is this some Diana Kennedy, Patricia Quintana, alta cocina, templo de gastronomía? No. Is it an attempt to re-create the loncheras of East L.A.? No. Florencia 13 is a place for pocho comfort food, Chicano cuisine rather than Mexican, and while Florencia 13, like El Arco Iris, wouldn't be the best Mexican--or even the best Mexican-American--in Southern California, it's solid. The East Coast imitator can scratch that burrito or chile verde itch for expats from warm, sunny Califas.

Now, if only someone from New York would open a coal oven pizzeria or an appetizing store here in Orange County...

185 Sullivan St., New York; (212) 677-6830; On the A-C-E or B-D-F-M at West 4th St. or the 1 at Houston St.

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I'm happy for the good people of New York... 

Being someone from the east coast and someone who probably ate as many slices of "New York" pizza as I have Double Doubles being from California... What is it that you all like so much about New York Pizza?  I dont get it!  Its a personal thing, I know.. and I'll probably catch a ton of shit for saying this but when I was in NY and NJ I didnt eat any pizza that really blew my skirt up... Maybe I didnt go to the right places and dont ask me where I went it was 7 years ago and I don't remember.  But I went to Chicago in 08 and that was some memorable pizza. 

To be clear my absolute favorite pizza is served at a few Italian places in San Francisco that make wood fired pizzas... I'm sorry though,  I dont get the NY pizza thing.  If I go back I promise to try it again. 

Carrion Fairy
Carrion Fairy

It just seems to click for some people for some reason (me being one of them). I can see how people like deep dish more, though. But something about folding a fat greasy chewy slice and stuff your face just feels so... so right.

$11 for 3 tacos?! Holy shit. Were they bigger tacos? Or the quarter-dollar Taqueria ones?

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Ohhhhh no no no no. These were three MINI tacos. One regular-size (you know, standard taco tortilla size like you get from Mission, et al.) taco was $5.50.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

I just double-checked my receipt. That photo's a combo plate, so rice and beans and guac came with it, and it was $17.

Carrion Fairy
Carrion Fairy


But if I was living in NY, after a few months, I'd probably give in to the craving and fork out $11 though I'd be grumpy about it for a the next few months until I gave in again.

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