Forget the ambitious newcomers occupying the rabid media for a moment. The spectrum of Mexican eateries that our city has on offer is a panoply that gets even more diverse when you head to the lower tier. Here, there are bodegas that act as taquerias. There are grocery stores that morph into lounges when the sun goes down. There are carts that generate street-level salons. And there are restaurants where the dining room functions as a dive bar. At Mexican Restaurant Tenampa (9614 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens; 718-335-7359), located in Corona, buckets of Victoria outnumber the place settings, and the waitresses function as bouncers, cutting off young men when they’ve had enough.
If you go on a Saturday afternoon, there may be a singer in a black button-up, with a mop of black hair curling over dark aviator glasses. He ambles around the room with a microphone yelping out norteño ballads and swigging Coronas like a Mexican Alan Vega. He pats the shoulders of men — dishwashers, porters, construction workers — who have bent their foreheads to the table.
But there is also food. Platters of grilled beef with a nice iron salinity ($14), to be slashed into strips and folded into a tortilla with a dab of fiery guacamole. There are tacos ($2.50), weighed down with double-stacked corn tortillas, chorizo with potato, braised chicken, and carnitas with crispy bits and gelatinous corners of sweet fat. Sometimes there is a brick-red seafood soup ($14), stained with the liquor of so many pureed chiles. Hunks of fine-fleshed fish, mussels, clams, and rubbery rings of calamari bob in the broth, a bowl to sit with for an extended evening, feeding quarters into the jukebox, sipping beer, buying neighbors a round, a potage that’s even better as an aid to get through the following morning.
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.