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.