Named after the colorful embroidered tunic worn by women in southern Mexico, El Huipil is a recently opened Red Hook café. The bright orange walls amplify the sunlight that streams in through the windows on a winter afternoon, and phantom convection currents cause the cut-paper images hanging from the ceiling to tremble. The waiter trips down a few steps from the kitchen, wearing a black guayabera and black slacks, his jet hair in a braid that goes all the way down his back. He speaks perfect English at this slightly upscale establishment, located on a street so obscure that traffic to the impending Ikea may never penetrate this far. Nevertheless, El Huipil is gradually building a constituency of fans.
The founders hail from Guerrero, a Mexican state southwest of Puebla dominated by four mountain ranges. Top of the list, entrée-wise, is a midnight brown mole that’s subtly different, and maybe better, than the famous mole poblano from Puebla, a chile sauce laced with chocolate and nuts that became a welcome addition to Gotham cuisine when it arrived here a decade ago. The Guerrero version comes strewn with toasted sesame seeds, leaving a pleasantly bitter taste in your mouth after an initial impression of sweetness. You can have it poured over a quarter chicken ($8.95), flooding a trio of chicken enchiladas ($8.25), or streaking chicken tamales ($2 each). I’d recommend the enchiladas, which obviate the need to struggle with skin and bones in the thick sauce.
With its unspeakable richness, the mole “estilo guerrero” is hardly the thing for a light luncheon. On the opposite end of the heaviness spectrum are chilaquiles verdes ($6.25), a toss of yesterday’s tortillas reanimated with a tomatillo and green chile sauce so light and abundant that a puddle remains on the plate after you’ve grabbed anything you can find to sop it up—corn chips, tortillas left over from other entrées, and dippable vegetables from the perfunctory but delicious nopales salad ($2.95), made from shredded prickly pear paddles. For $1.25, the chilaquiles can be turned into a heavier meal by adding strips of carne asada (sautéed beef), spicy shredded chicken, or scrambled eggs. I go for the eggs every time, which flop over the chilaquiles on the side of the plate like a yellow cloud approaching a verdant plain.
El Huipil offers all the expected southern Mexican dishes (chicken with pumpkin seed sauce, tongue tacos) and Tex-Mex as well (burritos, nachos), but the real test of a southern spot is its pozole. I went on a Saturday to sample this weekend specialty ($8.75), and was impressed. The broad white bowl teemed with whole hominy, substantial wads of chicken, and oregano. The clear broth was mellow and saline. The soup by itself would have been fabulous, but on the side appeared an extravagant plate of add-ins, including fried pork rinds, crescents of avocado at peak ripeness, lime wedges, raw onions, and, for additional crunch, a few fried corn tortillas, which I added to the soup periodically while demolishing the bowl.
The menu has other highlights, too, including tacos dorados (“golden tacos,” $4.95), a trio of deep-fried corn tortillas stuffed with potatoes and epazote; and caldo de camaron, a bounty of large shrimp in an incendiary, brick-red broth, a reminder that Guerrero also has a coastline. But it’s that elaborate pozole I can’t stop thinking about.