As evening wears on, plate upon plate is delivered, more than you thought you’d asked for.
By LIGAYA MISHAN
FROM the outside it looks like an ordinary meatball, swarthy and sizzling. In the ground beef are the faint crunch of rice, a strafing of mint, ghost trails of cumin and oregano. Then, surprise: a secret chamber filled with the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, bright yellow and just starting to deliquesce. It is the gangster movie cliché, a big lug with a heart of gold.
At Mexicocina, a small, cheerful storefront two blocks from the No. 6 train in the South Bronx, these oversize dumpling-like meatballs, called albóndigas, wallow in a robust tomato broth alongside rough blocks of potatoes ($9). Like any object of desire, they are elusive, not always available. Cross your fingers, or call ahead.
Mexicocina, which opened in 2008, is one of the more formal Mexican joints in this stretch of Mott Haven, which is to say there are a few tables at the back, past the takeout counter with its glass vats of horchata and tamarindo. The owner and chef, Antonio Vilchis, writes courtly thank-you notes to Yelp reviewers (“I appreciate your kind words”), asking for ways to improve. (“What could we do to earn that extra star?”)
Pull up a seat by the brick oven, where an electric log flickers, and you will soon find your shoulders vibrating to loud Mexican pop. Above, a vase of fake calla lilies pays homage to a portrait of the Virgin.
The menu is bilingual, but the day’s specials appear only in Spanish. Enchiladas de borrego ($10), corn tortillas rolled around long-braised lamb shoulder, are engulfed in a chunky salsa ranchera (smoky and almost fruity, with a crescendoing heat) and striped with crema. Costillas de cerdo ($9) are dainty little pork ribs. Their tenderness is almost beside the point; they are mere vehicles for guasmole verde, a loose, slinking sauce of roasted tomatoes suffused with guaje seeds, whose flavor insinuates a threesome of ramps, black garlic and caramelized onion.
Tacos, presented in tin pans lined with whole jalapeños, could take most of their Manhattan rivals in a fight. Be sure to order the tacos Mexicocina ($3.50 each) and not the baseline version ($2.50). The difference is the handmade tortilla, coarse and lumpy, tasting of earth and corn.
Seventeen kinds of taco are served, including cecina, thin, lean strips of meat, salt-cured and sun-dried like jerky, which become seethingly juicy when grilled; carnitas, shredded slow-roasted pork like a warm cloud in your mouth, with occasional lightning jabs from the crispy charred bits; and al pastor, chile-enflamed pork cooked on a vertical spit, then tossed with grilled pineapple, the sweetness held at bay by smoke.
Among the offal options, tongue, chopped thickly, could be confused with a portobello mushroom. The texture gives the game away. This is not high end, delicate, finely shaved tongue, its true rubbery nature expunged. You will chew, and chew, and chew.
You may not want to know too much about huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on corn, displacing the sunny kernels with ashy, bulbous distensions. It is at once disgusting and divine. Here, stuffed into a quesadilla ($7), it is oddly affectless, with not a whiff of funk.
Cemitas ($7 to $8) are imposing sandwiches, their girth and height making it impossible to take a top-to-bottom bite. Among the layers of meat, avocado, jalapeños and cheese is the crucial ingredient, papalo, a Mexican herb that might be considered cilantro’s comrade-in-arms, with scattered notes of lemon, peppermint and, distantly, soap. It is so difficult to penetrate, however, that you may end up tasting little but bread.
As evening wears on, plate upon plate is delivered, more than you thought you had asked for. It is food you might be served in a Mexican friend’s home, on terra-cotta dishes much like these, dotted with sunflowers. It is food that makes you feel loved.
800 East 149th Street (Tinton Avenue), Mott Haven, the Bronx, (347) 498-1055, mexicosina.com
RECOMMENDED Albóndigas en caldillo (meatballs in broth); enchiladas de borrego (lamb enchiladas); guasmole verde con costillas de cerdo (pork ribs in green roasted-tomato sauce); tacos Mexicocina (on handmade tortilla), with cecina (salted beef), carnitas (roasted pork), and al pastor (rotisserie pork with pineapple).
PRICES $2.50 to $14.
HOURS Sunday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to midnight.
RESERVATIONS Not accepted.
ACCESSIBILITY Dining room is level with the sidewalk. Restroom is down a flight of stairs and not equipped with a handrail.