It took full, active engagement of the servers’ biceps to lower the cochinita pibil onto the table. The pibil, an entire pork shoulder slow-roasted and burnished with achiote, the caramelized crust glistening with its own juices, was a hefty platter.
The commanding centerpiece is now being offered at Roberto Santibañez’s two locations of Fonda , his Mexican restaurants in Park Slope and the East Village, along with a parade of other dishes eaten family-style, a true feast ($35 a person).
“I just can’t figure out why no Mexican restaurants in New York City serve family style,” Santibañez told me, shaking his head in amazement, “because that’s what actually happens there — a big party, lots of people eating, friends, family, and communal food.”
The cochinita pibil is a Yucatecan tradition that starts with a scarlet rub. “Not from a jar, we make our own, of course,” Santibañez confirms. The kitchen pounds achiote seeds in a mortar and pestle and mixes the powder with smashed garlic, peppercorns, salt, dried oregano, orange juice and vinegar to make a thick paste, which is massaged into the pork. Wrapped tightly in banana leaves, it’s roasted slow and low for eight hours.
The massive pibil may be the focal point but the real triumph is in the procession: guacamole en molcajete with chips and salsas; pots of creamy black beans; sautéed swiss chard and onions; crunchy coins of potato roasted in the drippings; and pickled red onions and a habeñero salsa, fruity, but hot enough to strip enamel. Rounds of Fonda’s delicate, hand-pressed tortillas are passed around to fold into tacos and tongs are given for the pork, though most eaters stab into the mass pulling chunks off at will. All Fonda needs is 48-hours notice, you, and enough hungry friends to tackle it. Our carnivorous 12-top barely made a dent.
Fonda also offers costilla de res, or braised short ribs ($55 a person) or lamb barbacoa ($45 a person) instead of the cochinita. All meals include guacamole, salsa, accompanying sides, tortillas, and dessert.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.