Anyone who’s spent enough time in New York City (especially transplant Los Angelinos) will tell you the five boroughs’ Mexican foodscape is lacking. They’ll lament the overpriced tacos, high-end concept Mexican restaurants, and the lack of authentic ingredients. They won’t tell you about Zaragoza, because they’ve probably never been.
In the back of a pint-sized Mexican-owned bodega in the East Village, chef-owners Pompeyo and Maria Martinez make up for a sea of subpar Mexican establishments by selling delicious Poblano dishes out of this covert eatery (its very name is a nod to their hometown of Zaragoza de la Luz in the state of Puebla). Bloggers bemoan having walked by for years without ever knowing it was there.
At its inception in 2000, the bodega-cocina sold imported Mexican spices, herbs, and chilies to the then-mostly Latinx surrounding neighborhood. They’ve always sold hot food, but they never needed anything more than a bench along the wall until years later.
Today, Zaragoza serves more well-heeled, inebriated night-owls than it used to, but it’s retained a familial charm by obscuring the friendly Martinez family’s rich, home-cooked meals behind a grungy bodega facade in an unlikely area for quality Mexican eating. It helps that there’s a friendly resident cat.
Past its unassuming exterior, you’ll find a rotating menu of Mexican classic fillings for tacos, burritos, tortas, and more. Chipotle chicken and al pastor are typical mainstays, but depending on the day you may also encounter ground chorizo, goat, flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower), and lengua (tongue). The burritos come smothered in green and red salsa with cheese in the middle, in the likeness of the Mexican flag, while the tortas come bigger than your head.
Wash it down with your favorite Jarritos and a cat on your lap. Just don’t go telling everyone about it.