Street Smart

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:10

    IF YOU’VE DESPAIRED of ever finding inspired, authentic Mexican food at coordinates north of Red Hook and west of Sunset Park, here’s a reason to reconsider: La Superior. Felipe Mendez’s new Williamsburg taqueria is a celebration of street food, a love letter to the snacks and small plates found at street stalls, mercados and cantinas across Mexico but rarely in New York. So there are no burritos here, no flour tortillas even, no nachos and no tortilla soups, nor are there desserts of any kind. Instead you’ll taste an array of flavors and textures—from crispy corn masa with fresh, salty cheese to smoky achiote peppers and mouth-meltingly tender pork— that soar above Tex-Mex mediocrity.

    Outside and in, La Superior is scrappy and unpretentious.The smallish space offers just a handful of stools at the bar (for eating only until the liquor license arrives) and one tightly packed row of tables along a banquette. Edison bulbs encased in glass bubbles and silvery, printed wallpaper, both designed by Mendez, add a dash of style, but the fast-food-joint floor tile is pretty drab. It’s a modest setting, certainly, but also casual and lively, befitting a place so enamored with street food. Mendez, 28, is a charismatic host, and his staff is friendly, too, once you’re on the radar. That can take longer than it should, but the low-level chaos is part of the charm. The menu is a single, spattered sheet of paper, and it’s telling. It erases distinctions between starter, side and entrée. The kitchen acts accordingly, serving dishes when they’re ready, which often means haphazardly. Order hardly matters though, as most plates arrive quickly, and the meals are best when you try a bit of everything.

    You can start with gorditas ($5), fried corn biscuits stuffed with chorizo, chorizo and potato or requeson, a salty, fresh cheese.This last version, accompanied by cilantro, shredded lettuce and cream, is a study in texture, setting the crispy, flaky masa against soft, crumbly cheese. Quesadillas ($3.50), wholly unlike their Tex- Mex cousins, are stuffed and pressed masa pastries topped with cream and cheese.

    Try the tinga de pollo, chicken in a smoky tomato chipotle sauce, or the rajas con queso, which pairs cheese and roasted poblano peppers. Ezquites, corn kernels shaved into a plastic cup with epazote (a mint-like herb) and crushed red pepper and then piled high with queso fresco and sweet Mexican mayonnaise, are sweet enough to close your meal. Bite-sized and served on a single corn tortilla, La Superior’s tacos ($2.50) offer a spectrum—there are 10 varieties—of flavors. The lengua (beef tongue) is excellent, with earthy, tender chunks of the meat brightened by cilantro and onions.

    Pescado zarandeado pairs fresh and tangy tilapia with a warm pico de gallo. And the cochinita de pibil may be the best taco in New York: the pork is marinated in annatto, vinegar and pineapple for a nearly perfect blend of smoke and acid with just a touch of sweetness and then slow cooked until it’s impossibly tender.

    Large plates are more uneven.The alambre de res ($9), tender chunks of skirt steak with peppers, onions and Chihuahua cheese is deliciously oily, savory and gooey, and the enchiladas suizas are plenty