The requisite Best Of lists demand that we writers solidify our superlatives for the year. And 2014 was a bountiful one for moderate to upscale Mexican, as New York City chefs focused their efforts on the foundations of the cuisine, which has glided into the gastronomic limelight. But no wavering here — Mission Cantina (172 Orchard Street, 212-254-2233) has the best tortillas in the city.
While the reopening of Mission Chinese in a new space with a larger menu and the sumptuous Vietnamese breakfast that operates during the morning hours at Mission Cantina have been the focus of Danny Bowien’s Manhattan peregrinations, I’m consistently struck by the quality of the tortillas that accompany the Mexican menu at Cantina. Bowien stuck with Anson Mills for his flour even as many other chefs were converted by the excellent New York City–based Masienda purveyors of Mexican “landrace” corn. Mission Cantina ditched its rolling press for a hand crank. And it makes tortillas to order. All of them.
“It’s been a year of backbreaking work, to be honest,” said Bowien during a recent visit. “We cook the corn less, wash it less, generally just fuck with it less. I think we might have been over-analyzing it at first.” Hot off the griddle, the tortillas are richly golden rounds, best draped over the face like Hannibal Lecter might, and inhaled. You get the aroma and steam first, then the flavor. With a plate of pure avocado, a squeeze of lime and salt, there’s no better direct evocation of Mexico.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas.