“We don’t have espresso drinks, no cappuccinos … just cafe con leche,” laments the matron of Sabor a Mexico Taqueria (160 First Avenue, 212-533-4002), a modest Mexican hole-in-the-wall in the East Village run by a family from Guerrero. The four small tables are rarely filled; the occasional local comes in for plump burritos, enchiladas smothered in various sauces, and pozole. No apology is necessary. The cafe con leche ($2.50) comes in a terra cotta mug, sluiced with enough scalded milk to turn it a mellow umber; the mug is warm, and the is coffee steaming.
Doughnuts won’t do. This coffee is an ideal match for a platter of house-made tamales, served every day of the week. The trio of fat, blocky tamales ($3.50 each) are as big as chalkboard erasers and come on a platter, lovingly unwrapped and covered with a spoonful of the sauce that flavors each interior. For chicken verde, a slippery green chile purée is poured on top; pork in mole poblano gets a ladle of dark, chile-flecked sauce. A smoked red chile blankets the rajas con queso — press through the corn filling to uncover softening bits of fresh tomato, strips of roasted jalapeño, and a plank of salty cheese.
The dulcet edge of the cafe con leche comes from the warmed milk, and the slight bitterness magnifies the savory haunt of toasted chiles and ground corn from the tamales. It’s a quiet, triumphant breakfast.
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.