Food

Taqueria Ramírez Brings a Mexico City Specialty to Brooklyn

Between the ribs of a steer and its skin lies a thin, flat, broad muscle. While more familiar beef cuts are more or less the ruby red of uncooked steak, this one is a pale and milky pink, from which it gets one of its names, “rose meat.” It is also known as the twitch muscle or the fly shaker because, quickly contracted, it will make the cow’s flank shudder, driving away biting insects if the cow is lucky. In the United States, though, there is almost no market for this cut under any name. Most of it goes into burgers.

The fly shaker gets a warmer reception in Latin America. Colombians call it sobrebarriga — over the belly. Presumably because of its low cost, it is known as matambre, hunger killer, in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. A favorite Argentine specialty involves baking or grilling a broad expanse of rose meat under a blanket of tomato sauce and cheese — essentially treating the beef as if it were pizza dough.

The word for this cut in Mexico is suadero. The etymology is uncertain, but the enthusiasm for suadero is not, particularly in Mexico City, where in almost every neighborhood someone is patiently stewing suadero in fat and broth before chopping it to bits and folding it into tacos.

The interior is inspired by taquerias in Mexico City.Credit…Adam Friedlander for The New York Times

Like any great capital, Mexico City draws people from around the country, along with many of the dishes they ate back home. You can find tacos there that originated in Guerrero, Sinaloa, Puebla, Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Chiapas and so on, but the suadero taco is thought by some authorities to be native to and chiefly eaten in Mexico City.

This is probably why it was rarely seen in New York City until last August, when it appeared on the six-taco menu of a new taqueria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and people trying it for the first time began asking, “Where have you been all my life?”

The place that sells it, Taqueria Ramírez, inhabits a small, one-story building on a tree-lined side street that is otherwise built up with modest houses covered in shingles or vinyl siding. It is not the first address you would look up if you were searching for a classic Mexico City street snack, let alone one made with a cut of beef that most Americans have never encountered.

Taqueria Ramírez is owned by two Greenpoint residents who were raised in Mexico. Giovanni Cervantes, often found checking vaccine cards at the door and straightening up the narrow shelf of onions, cilantro, limes and salsas (which can be applied at will to the tacos), is from Mexico City. His partner in the taqueria and in life, Tania Apolinar, grew up in the northern border state of Coahuila and usually works the register.

Ropes of tripe simmer with longaniza and suadero in a pan called a comal choricero.Credit…Adam Friedlander for The New York Times
A few seconds under a blowtorch add texture and flavor to the soft tripe.Credit…Adam Friedlander for The New York Times

The list of tacos they sell is written in horror-movie red on a gleaming wall of white tiles, along with the beguiling suggestion that “all may contain lard.” (The color scheme may have been borrowed from the fast-service Mexico City chain Taqueria Orinoco.) Once you have placed your order, found an empty stool, looked around the room at the potted cactus spires and the choking poster, you will probably find yourself staring at the hot tub of meat.

The hot tub is a wide pan holding a steaming bath of lard and broth in which flaps of suadero burble happily alongside orange links of longaniza and ropy lengths of tripe. Letting all three meats share the tub results in a far more interesting broth that seasons everything cooked in it. If you’ve ever sat facing a Chinese hot pot or Italian bollito misto, you are familiar with the effect.

A stainless-steel island rises from the liquid in the center of the pan, formally known as a comal choricero. A comal is, of course, the flat griddle on which tortillas are warmed before they are made into tacos; the comal in this case is the central island, which is conveniently surrounded by a supply of hot spiced fat. Ramírez does not exactly let the tortillas linger long enough to fry, but they sometimes emerge with an appealing crunch at the edges.

Marinated pork roasted on a vertical spit is sliced directly onto a tortilla to make a taco al pastor.Credit…Adam Friedlander for The New York Times

The technique of lubricating tortillas in the cooking juices is similar to that used to produce the red birria tacos that have overtaken the city in the two years since the Birria-Landia truck first began lumbering through the streets of Queens. The tortillas at Ramírez are less spicy, but their milder seasoning suits the more nuanced flavor of slow-cooked meat. Ramírez builds its tacos on small, sunflower-yellow tortillas from Tortilleria Nixtamal, the fine masa producer that recently moved from Queens to Passaic County in New Jersey.

The tripe probably gains the most flavor from lounging in the bath with lard, suadero and the spices that seep from the longaniza. When it is drawn from the Jacuzzi in long, ivory strands and then chopped to bits, the tripe is in a state of collapse. Just before it meets its tortilla, it is lightly crisped with a blowtorch, like baked alaska.

What the tart crumbles of longaniza give up in intensity they gain in tenderness. But the most impressive product of the comal choricero is the chopped suadero, which ends up very smooth and tender, with a mild flavor that is closer to veal than to, say, carne asada. Every good taco deserves salsa, but a suadero taco benefits more than most. Taqueria Ramírez has a cooked salsa roja and a spicier raw salsa verde enriched with avocado. They are very good by New York standards, although I am not sure they would draw crowds in Mexico City, where Ramírez’s decision to serve chopped red onions instead of the milder white ones might furrow a brow or two.

Combining suadero and longaniza gives you a taco campechano, Taqueria Ramírez-style.

Customers can dress suadero, milder and paler than other cuts of beef, with onions, cilantro and salsa.Credit…Adam Friedlander for The New York Times

The last two tacos fillings are not pulled from the comal choricero. Slices of catcus paddle, the filling in the nopales taco, are cooked with onions and Serrano chiles on a griddle until they are tender but not completely limp.

And the al pastor is made from a tower of chile-rubbed pork stacked on a trompo and expertly shaved so that each taco gets a mix of crunchy browned outside meat, some strips of the juicy interior, and a shard or two of the pineapple that rides on top of the meat on the turning spit. In New York City, the taco al pastor has been a competitive category for some time, and if the ones at Ramírez do not walk away with the title, they keep pace with the front-runners.

Eating a great taco takes less time than describing it. No matter how many I order, they tend to disappear while my bottle of Topo Chico is still half-full. Fifteen minutes after I arrive, I’m usually placing my plate on a stack of other Chiclets-colored plates and making room for someone else who wants a taste of twitch muscle.

What the Stars Mean Because of the pandemic, restaurants are not being given star ratings.

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