New Mex Deli (5914 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-492-7492) is a long walk from Sunset Park — it’s at the southern end of the neighborhood and across from the imposing Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help; it’s close enough to Bay Ridge that you can catch a glimpse of Staten Island on the horizon. It inhabits a space slimmer than most Manhattan studio apartments, and it is not a deli per se, just a counter, a griddle, a mostly empty refrigerator case, and three small tables. That griddle, a searing plancha seasoned by years of oil-crisped antojitos, takes up significant square footage of the floor plan but harnesses the magic of A36 steel to send glorious things off its hot surface.
The recently expanded menu includes tortas ($6.25), cemitas ($7), tostadas ($3), burritos ($7), and larger plates ($10) served with beans, rice, and tortillas. The former menu was a piece of paper taped to the wall, on which sincronizadas and quesadillas were denoted in black Sharpie; the tacos went without saying.
The quesadillas ($4.50) continue to be distinctive — the masa is pressed to order, and the dough is transformed by the plancha into a tender, golden casing for truly spicy chicken tinga, petals of squash blossoms, and gooey strands of bone-white Oaxacan cheese. Each quesadilla, stippled with char and releasing plumes of corn-scented steam, is as individual as a snowflake.
There is also a luminous pambazo ($6.25) the chile-dipped potato-chorizo sandwiches that have been popular in Mexico for some time and have been growing in popularity in our country. On the menu, the sandwich is printed as “estilo D.F.,” which in actuality refers not to the style of the pambazo but to the provenance of the owner, who is from the Distrito Federal of the country’s capital. The bread is a cheap, cottony roll dunked in a thickish chile sauce, and it matches crumbles of potato, chorizo, and shredded lettuce showered with dry cheese. The sauce is made with enough blended tomatoes and garlic that it would taste like an Italian-American hoagie if it weren’t for the burning heat that reverberates on the lips like the church bells ringing across the street do in your ears.
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.