The neighborhoods that harbor the evolving Mexican diaspora — the South Bronx; Corona, Queens; and Sunset Park, Brooklyn — often have the richest density of proficient Mexican cuisine, for food tends to follow the demographic. And the cart parked outside of the Mexican Consulate on 39th Street hews to the same axiom, because in midtown, it makes sense to go where there’s a concentration of Mexican nationals. The El Jalapeño cart (39th Street between Madison and Park), which has been parking here for just over two years, is currently run by D.F.-eños, cooks from Mexico City, who serve tacos ($2.50), tortas ($7), cemitas ($7), sopes ($3.50), burritos ($7), and picaditas ($3.50) as well as coffee, tea, and the errant crullers left over from the breakfast rush.
The menu lists chicharrón, chorizo, carnitas, chicken, bistec, cecina, and carne enchilada, though not all proteins may be available every day. The bistec comes well seasoned, the curls of beef wet with juice and char. The carne enchilada, with a bit of funk intact, is mopped with puréed chiles and cooked until dry. Sopes have the shape and density of a black-and-white cookie, a mash of beans spread like icing to the lip of the masa, topped with crumbled chorizo and shredded iceberg, cheese, and crema.
From two squeeze bottles comes a seedy, seething red salsa flecked with bits of charred onion, and a chunky, herbaceous green sauce with more heft than the neutered chile sauces of midtown margarita mills. Seating? There are a couple of plastic crates turned over on the sidewalk — good thing spring has finally sprung.
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.