If tortas are on the menu, then you know that the tacos are good.
I love the flour tortilla. I could eat tacos every day and not be mad. And Mexican cuisine is widely flattered in the sincerest form, and generally quite well, in such varieties as Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Hipster-Mex and Surfer-Mex. (OK, I made those last two up, but admit it, you’ve been to those restaurants and you know what I’m talking about.)
But sometimes it’s nice to go back to the source material, amirite?
Enter El Puente Taqueria, a no-frills luncheonette near the foot of Fifth Avenue. This place is no imitator, and it has all the staples that make Mexican cuisine the cheap eats de resistance, prepared from fresh, recognizable ingredients (unlike other cheap eateries I could mention, Kentucky Fried Heart Attack).
The tacos are nearest and dearest to my heart, with the varieties of protein you would come to expect (plus an avocado option), tenderly garnished with cilantro, onion, and radishes. You could get it with sauce, but my feeling is, why try to cover up the taste of the good stuff? Most of the tacos sell for $2.50 a pop.
And then there are the tortas. You know you’ve stumbled upon Mexican cuisine done right when you pick up the menu and find tortas.
I don’t know why tortas never took off along with the taco, burrito, and quesadilla offerings found in [name a noun]-Mex restaurants. Maybe it’s because it’s a sandwich, and Imitation-Mex proprietors felt as though American restaurants already had that “sandwich” thing covered.
Our loss, and El Puente’s gain. The torta is a uniquely Mexican offering, with one claim crediting the 19th-century interaction of Spanish, French, and native cultures as responsible for its creation. But if that origins story sounds too French for you, then take my description to heart: if a burrito and a panini got married and had a baby, that baby would be a torta. And it would be your favorite.
Because I am a creature of habit, I pretty much always get a bottle of Jarritos soda to drink, imported from Mexico. Now, I can’t tell you honestly that it tastes like the flavors advertised on the bottle—Lime Jarritos, for instance, tastes like what I imagine a light-green soda should taste like—but I can tell you honestly that it’s head-and-shoulders better than the mass-marketed sodas that the United States is known for. (Sorry, Mountain Dew.)
El Puente is good for takeout, and it’s a nice little eat-in spot as well. The interior dining area is very small but also easy on the eyes, with homages to Mexican culture all about. Ironically, the view out the window from this poster-child for locally owned business is a Staples, the poster-child for big box stores in incongruous places.
El Puente Taqueria is located at 9300 Fifth Avenue, next to the east entrance of Kelly’s. It is open every day from 11am to 10pm.