From Mama Mia to Viejo Mexico

11 Nov 2014 | 01:52

    The Bronx’s Arthur Avenue is known for its famous indoor retail market, mom-and-pop shops filled with imported goods with lines out the door and, of course, Italian restaurants slinging pasta a million ways. Mexican food should be the last thing that comes to mind. But why go to one of a dozen of Italian restaurants when you can dine on south-of-the-border cuisine at Estrellita Poblana III?

    A fried calamari’s throw away from the likes of Dominick’s and Umberto’s Clam House II, which will cost you your first bambino, the diminutive Estrellita Poblana III caters to the immigrants employed in the kitchens of the aforementioned joints.

    Having heard the plaudits about this Boogie Down community for years, my wife and I, along with some friends, trekked an hour and a half on the D train from Brooklyn to the Belmont section of the Bronx. We had the taste of fresh mozzarella and pancetta on the tips of our tongues. We had grand plans of clearing the Arthur Avenue Retail Market (2374 Arthur Ave.) of all its imported goodness. One problem: We went on a Sunday. The market was closed. The line for Casa della Mozzarella (604 E. 187th St.) was out the door, but the wait was well worth the prosciutto, sorpresseta and Parmesan. The same went for Teitel Brothers (2372 Arthur Ave.). One hundred ravioli ran us $10.50 at another shop. And since food shopping works up a carbohydrate-lusting appetite, off we went for some carbonara and Matriciana. Every establishment’s prices were out of our budget.

    Then we found Estrellita Poblana III. Our first meal there ended with the damning of all other dining establishments on Arthur Avenue and vows to return.

    On a Saturday earlier this month we did just that, more friends in tow. The plan was to finish our culinary Christmas shopping at the indoor market and beeline it to Estrellita Poblana.

    The second time around it didn’t disappoint. Once the oven-fresh tortilla chips arrive at the table with salsa, request the excellent guacamole and a round of Mexican Coca-Colas ($2.50). In 16 ounce bottles, the imported sodas are made with sugar, not corn syrup like its North American progenitor. The tamales (Oxaqueño, cheese, pork, cheese, $1.25) reduced a friend’s speech to monosyllables: “Must. Not. Waste. One. Taste. Must. Have. Again.” My wife Jessica, of Mexican descent and a tamale aficionado, disagreed. “They were a little dry for my taste.” The cheese enchilada ($7.50) was smothered in salsa and melting chunks of queso fresco piled atop its plate-length size.

    Order an empanada ($4.50) at your own risk. The chicken and mushroom empanada at Estrellita was split open! Splitting open an empanada is like being Italian and not liking tomatoes. It’s sin, man. The crevice was stuffed with a salad of iceberg lettuce and queso fresco, which as a side is refreshing. But stuffed into an empanada—I spat out my first, and last bite.

    The Mole Poblano ($8.50) had produced an olfactory-inducing burn. The cooks at Estrellita had done what every other Mexican restaurant I’d visited in New York has failed to do: do mole justice. The two chicken breasts were enveloped in chocolate-pepper sauce, garnished with its namesake’s seeds. The accompanying yellow rice was fluffy, soaking up the mole. And the black beans were thick enough to eat with a fork, not a goopy mess prepared for immediate evacuation. The tacos ($2.50) were served traditionally. On a small plate was a pile of meat (goat, pork, chicken and beef), lettuce and cheese resting on two warm flour tortillas; tomatillo salsa or pico de gallo adds a tangy bite. (Vegetarians don’t fret, they’ll hold the muscle tissue if asked.)

    While you may not be able to continue the meal, order a champurrado ($2) anyway—an arroz con leche drink with a ball of rice and cinnamon sticks at the bottom of the cup. All this will induce a welcome amnesia. The surrounding Little Italy is as far way as the real deal, and Mexico is at your table.

    Estrallita Poblana III 2328 Arthur Ave., Bronx 718-220-7641