Grand Morelos is a Mexican Diner and an Institution

Grand Morelos is a Mexican Diner and an Institution
Jake Lindeman

Grand Morelos on Grand Avenue in East Williamsburg is a 24-hour Mexican diner that specializes in quinceañera cakes and never-ending cups of 90 cent coffee. The restaurant does more business at 3 a.m. than at noon, and the waitresses here flip between Spanish and English in a snap. It is a true neighborhood institution, and if you don't live within a six block radius, then you've likely never heard about it, though it's been there since the late 1990s when it replaced an Italian spot.

A front corner of the space is a bakery, and the cakes--dressed in thick white icing and adorned with sugary flowers and edible plastic prints of Dora the Explorer--greet you when you enter. There are also flans, rice puddings, doughnuts, neon-colored cookies, and elephant ears for less celebratory occasions.

Inside, the taut faux-leather booths match the maroon tables. Terra-cotta chameleons climb the walls while decorative fans rotate overhead. A metallic juicer grinds carrots and oranges into liquid. They may have upgraded the plateware recently, but the menu is still pure diner--fluffy silver-dollar pancakes from a box, Western-style omelettes, French Toast, and BLTs--except there are burritos, sopes, and flautas slipped in, and everything tastes vaguely Mexican. The kitchen also serves a griddled cheeseburger ($3.25) that, some evenings, is exactly what you need, even if your friends try to dissuade you from ordering it. This is Americana filtered through a Nueva Yorkita lens with sides of beans alongside the sides of toast, strips of jalapeño in the home-fries, and an outstanding avocado salsa that improves ninety percent of the menu's offerings.

The fiery chicken tinga stew is elevated from just a sweet tomatoe-y sauce by a kiss of chipotle chile. Piled onto a tostada loaded with iceberg and sour cream, it tastes like what Taco Bell aspires to--not a bad thing. The chilaquiles are mild, enriched with the broken yolks of two fried eggs. And that avocado salsa, as verdant as a pulverized wheatgrass shot and just as arresting, contains jalapeños, cilantro, avocado, and onion, and it gives a bare, clipped heat to anything you add it to. Spoon it onto the house breakfast plate ($3.95) of two eggs, toast, and homefries and note that everyone around you is probably doing the same.

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