La Lupe Cantina

In the much homier part of Bushwick, next to the Myrtle Broadway intersection, which if not an aorta is one of the more important vessels of the city — at least not one you’d want cut—, La Lupe Cantina sticks out. The bar is made of wood coated in chipping white paint. It reminds me of the houses in the parts of San Antoñio my parents are from. As opposed to El Cortez’s Isley Brothers, La Lupe plays Mexican pop music. I recognize Natalia Lafourcade’s voice. They offer the full complement of tacos: carne asada, pollo, carnitas, chorizo, a vegetarian option, and an al pastor taco though it was a bit off menu. Its advertised on a chalkboard off the side.

I start with that little cross cultural traveler, the al pastor taco. It is well thought out. At first, it is brought out without the pineapple. Me and the Mexican bartender look at it and know something has gone wrong. She takes it back and completes it. Instead of chunks of pineapple, La Lupe uses thin taco-length spears. This is ideal. This ensures that every bit has an even amount of the sweetness to compliment the subtle spice of the pork which has not been marinated too much.

The carne asada is also done just right. No fancy spices; just salt and its toppings. The carne asada has the wonderful sensation that steak imparts: the strange pleasure in the teeth. The slight pull that then gives before there is a struggle. It’s all left up to the steak. As for the pollo.

There is nothing wrong with the pollo. It is a perfectly good taco but is the least interesting of the four I got. Unless absolutely necessary, best to stick to the more bombastic offerings. Especially the chorizo.

The chorizo is the platonic ideal of a taco. Each ingredient is in perfect proportion. Yes, there is grease but this is chorizo and there should be grease. The spice is warm without biting.

Each taco is topped with cilantro, radish, and an incredible avocado salsa that combines the best of guacamole and a salsa verde. The white corn tortillas perform admirably. No tears. This place is a place I could see myself enjoying every day. The decor is toned down abuela style: lots of room but here and there lie the clutter of Mexican cultural knick knacks. Tons of images of la Calavera Catrina, ceramic pieces, Mexican beers named after death. The bartender Paola is kind and not overbearing. She makes delicious margaritas that are heavily reliant on a good lime as the other ingredients are not the highest quality. But they are five dollars and so I have two.

La Lupe Cantina is located at 9 Jefferson St., Brooklyn, NY 11206

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El Cortez

In the funny edge of Bushwick with the block long canvases, industrial Montmartre, is where they keep El Cortez, an evocative spare facade on Ingraham. Initially, I get there way too early. El Cortez opens at 4. No one in this section has their natural hair color except me and Jose who is learning to tend bar at El Cortez from Justin who I overhear has risen to his position as manager from bartender.
But the tacos. Wonderful. Let me get the unpleasant out of the way. The grease. They are probably ideal for keeping alive a Berlin to Bushwick transplant with impeccable clothes save for her old paint spattered boots with sole detaching from last. But for the average taco-going city dweller, a bit much. The spice is difficult to discuss. It is the spice of a taco with something to prove. And it doesn’t have to prove anything. The meat, in this case pork, is well seasoned, juicy, and falls apart between the teeth. On top, they put the freshest radishes and cilantro that snap in each bite. But, special mention is deserved for the blue corn tortillas. Something often not considered in the preparation of the taco is tortilla integrity. Halfway through a high percentage of tacos, the contents tear through and fall into the plate. El Cortez’s blue corn tortillas, though drenched in overmuch grease, hold up from first bite to last. They keep a lime there, too. How sweet, how kind. Couldn’t hope to complain.
To cut through the grease, it is recommended to order either a Shiner or one of the baroque tiki drinks advertised in the lush placemats.
The decor enhances the place. The best palm tree wallpaper I have ever seen and a big mural that is said to irk some ethnic Mexicans but not this one. Though I insist that the ruin portrayed is Chichen Itza. Justin is sure it is Teotihuacan.

El Cortez is located at 17 Ingraham St., Brooklyn NY 11206