In the latest installment of Quick Bites, we head to Prospect Heights for a pile of amazing nachos, and more.
Even if you don't know the backstory here, about how chef Denisse Lina Chavez and her cult-favorite carnitas were forced out of Mott Haven last year by a punishing rent hike, El Atoradero is an appealing place to stop in for a taco or ten.
Now located on Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, which seems to have become something of a home for beloved displaced restaurants, Chavez's five-month-old Mexican spot seems to have really settled in to its new surroundings, with tables full of happy people during each of three meals I ate there last week.
The front room is bright, friendly, and punctuated with pineapple prints, with a wide, comfortable bar, expansive communal table, and some stools along a counter by the big front window. The back dining area, darker and more cozy, accommodates about 14, and they just opened the small backyard terrace over the weekend, which is likely to be a popular choice if it ever stops raining.
Servers and barkeeps are warm, capable, and extremely patient if you need help translating and/or visualizing some of the dishes on the impressively deep menu, which I did all three times. The music mix bounces with the odd Mexican banger, but is mostly innocuous poppy stuff. You will have a good time here.
The heart of the El Atoradero menu is the "Grand List of Fillings" (my name for it), where you can choose from among more than a dozen meats and veggies upon which to build your taco, quesadilla, burrito, torta, or cemita. I've now tried nearly every one of these, in a variety of formats, and though there's not a clunker in the bunch, I obviously had my favorites.
The Lengua (tongue, very tender), the Chorizo (deep red and crumbled), the Bistec (spit roasted and sliced into little bits), the Hongos (marinated mushrooms), and the Chicken Tinga (spicy!) are all superb, packed with flavor, cooked to perfection. But Chavez's Carnitas (the meat that made her famous), Oreja (pig ears, served crunchy and cartilaginous so you have to be into that), Cochinita Pibil (roasted pork shoulder in a tomato-y sauce), Placeros de Huevo (rice and hard-boiled eggs that really perk up when you use the hottest of the sauces provided), and Cecina (dried beef, nice and chewy) are also all solid options.
Ordering a mixed platter of tacos is obviously a good way to try a bunch of things, and the masa tortillas Chavez makes are fantastic, created from blue corn ground right there in the restaurant's basement. For the tacos and quesadillas these are cooked to a flexible, chewy consistency, but when you get the Nachos—and you should definitely get the Nachos, because they are the best in NYC right now, especially if you add chorizo—you'll find thick chips fried to delightful crisp, and they stay that way even at the bottom of the whole cheesy, gloppy, creamy, fiery pile.
The Burrito here is the bomb, one of the best in town, a soft flour tortilla stuffed with beans, rice, melted cheeses, some shredded lettuce, and the meat of your choice. That flour tortilla also appears in the Gringa "antojito" appetizer, a simple and delicious concoction that's basically an excuse to sit around and eat large mouthfuls of gooey cheese. The Flautas de Queso are crunchier and easier to dip and hold, but they are equally dedicated to bringing you total cheesy goodness.
Every night there's a different special entree, and the Pipian Verde de Pollo (Thursday) is a fine example of that dish, the thick and earthy pumpkin seed sauce almost making up for the somewhat scrawny chicken parts. And I should have listened to my companion—"let's get it con queso", she said—the night we ordered the Enchiladas de Mole Poblano! The puddle of sludgy, spicy sauce was exactly what I hoped for, but the chicken that filled the enchiladas was uninspired.
The El Atoradero Flan is boozy as hell, laced with tequila, and an unfortunate surprise to my alcohol-free diet.
Chavez and crew give you seemingly endless ways to enjoy the terrific food coming out of their kitchen so, yes, go now to El Atoradero and order a whole mess of Mexican, then go again a few nights later and fill your table with an entirely different feast.
El Atoradero is located at 708 Washington Avenue between Prospect Place and St. Marks Avenue, and is open for dinner nightly from 5:00 to 11:00, and for brunch on the weekends from 11:00 until 3:00. (718-399-TACO; elatoraderobrooklyn.com)