All of the cooks and waitresses at Taqueria Tlaxcalli are natives of Mexico.
By ALEXIS OKEOWO
IT used to be that authentic Mexican restaurants were a kind of urban legend in New York. And transplants from California and Texas, to say nothing of Puebla and Mexico City, still stalk the city’s cantinas, often with disappointing results, and trade tips about the best — places like Taqueria Tlaxcalli in Parkchester, a diverse expanse of urban blocks in the Bronx.
Tlaxcalli” means “tortilla” in the Aztec language Nahuatl, and a hand-painted Aztec mural welcomes visitors to the crowded space. Aztec masks and paintings hang on the yellow walls, and cooks joke in the open kitchen as they rapidly grill and plate meat, fish and tortillas.
“I wanted people to see how the food was prepared,” Mauricio Gomez, the burly owner, said, “because, in our culture, that’s part of how to serve food.”
A native of Mexico City, Mr. Gomez, 39, moved to New York at 17 to live with family friends. He immediately began working in kitchens, and soon met his wife, Yesenia, now also 39, who had come to the city from Honduras as a child. They moved their family — they have three daughters — from Queens to the Bronx to be near Ms. Gomez’s mother, and five years ago Mr. Gomez decided it was time to open his own restaurant.
“When we came here, there weren’t that many Mexicans,” Mr. Gomez said, “so I couldn’t find good Mexican food; a lot of it was tasteless. Or the Mexican places were just bars. If you’re with a family, it wasn’t the right kind of atmosphere.”
Today, more than half of the Bronx’s residents are of Latino descent, and the Mexican population is rapidly growing.
“Mexicans have been invading the Bronx,” Noehemi Miron, 21, a waitress who was born in Mexico City, said. “They come here after work stressed and tired, but when I tell them the day’s special, they really brighten up after a long day.”
On a recent Saturday, those specials included goat barbacoa, a dish in which the meat has been smoked and steamed, and tripe and tongue tacos made with cactus, onions and jalapeños.
Ms. Gomez, a petite woman who wore her hair in pigtails, greeted a constant stream of families, couples and groups of friends with a smile, pouring sweet hibiscus juice into glasses. She stopped by a table in the back to say hello to two customers sharing chips and fresh salsa.
“Es lo mejor!” (It’s the best), said Esuvia Peña, a Dominican service aide at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, as she sipped a homemade limeade drink. “The good food, the service, the atmosphere — it feels like home.” With her bright red sweater and long copper-colored hair, Ms. Peña, 45, barely looked older than her dining companion, her daughter Greylis, 24. Both live in the neighborhood.
Another diner, Rafael Rodriguez, 42, approached their table and kissed the elder Ms. Peña. “Those guys, I’m telling you, they’re the bomb,” he said, tilting his head toward the cooks.
“Everything in this restaurant is something my husband and I brought back from Mexico,” Ms. Gomez said, pointing to the ceramic salt and pepper shakers, teapots and water pitchers. She set down plates of tacos for a table of laughing women.
“On the weekends, this is a good place to come by; it’s very lively and the music is good,” Jasmine Pereyra, 35, said, leaning back in her chair after finishing a round of fish tacos.
Her friend Gisela Vives, 35, who is Puerto Rican, pointed accusingly to Ms. Pereyra to explain how she had gotten hooked on Taqueria Tlaxcalli.
“I’m here at least four times a week — she introduced me to the place!” Ms. Vives said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 30, 2011
An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that more than a fifth of the Bronx’s residents are of Mexican descent.