Tired of Tex-Mex yet? Well, we haven’t seen the last of puffy tacos and queso, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of authentic Mexican food around town. Take Hecho en Dumbo on the Bowery, which started as a series of Brooklyn pop-ups, devoted to blasting all manner of lowbrow stereotypes about the cuisine. Through a variety of small plates known as antojitos (“little whims”), chef Danny Mena evokes the cosmopolitan, culinary culture of Mexico’s vibrant urban centers, using local, quality ingredients, and tortillas, salsas and cheeses all made in house.
That being said, you’ll actually find Queso on the menu; but it’s hardly the electric orange sludge studded with ground beef, that’s been trending hard at places like Javelina. Instead, stretchy rectangles of chihuahua and asadero cheese are melted down inside of cast iron crocks, along with crumbles of Berkshire pork belly, strips of poblano pepper, or flecks of smoky huitlacoche (corn fungus), and meant to be folded into warm, pliant tortilla triangles, and topped with a trio of vibrantly flavored salsas.
Other impressive starters include Esquites — not that street fair favorite of whole corn on the cob, slathered with mayo and rolled in a thick coat of cheese — but a tumbler of grilled, summer-sweet kernels, swimming in a delicate broth of queso fresco and chile piquin. Equally elegant is the Picaditos de Jaiba; bite-sized masa boats filled with tender ribbons of Dungeness crab and diamonds of ripe avocado, and even Tacos deviate from the expected; from a seafood selection of smoked sablefish, Portuguese octopus and battered gulf shrimp, to the Tacos de Lengua; piled with silky nubbins of beef tongue, caramelized onion, and morita-xoconostle salsa, and delivered with a molten-centered marrow bone, so you can drizzle the musky, roasted drippings over top.
And while it’s tempting enough to assemble a meal entirely of “little whims” (accompanied, of course, by multiple rounds of mezcal-based drinks), don’t write off the larger plates — from heaping platters of Barbacoa (grilled baby lamb ribs and lamb sausage, smeared with peanut salsa macha and dotted with heirloom flor de junio beans), to the sophisticated Callos al Chilpachole (jumbo scallops floating in crab brodo, strewn with baby leeks, baby corn and peas), and the unusual, vaguely Middle Eastern Fideo en Nogada; house made egg noodles, walnut poblano sauce and goat cheese, which reminded us, in a not unwelcome way, of our Jewish grandma’s noodle kugel.
While we’re certainly not immune to the junky allures of Tex-Mex, it should in no way detract from the traction that authentic, Mexican cuisine has gained in New York in recent years. So when you’re ready drop the Queso for Huitlacoche-Queso Fundido, and sizzling Fajitas for plates of Berkshire Pork Shank with Chicharron, Hecho en Dumbo is a classy go-to, for refined, regional fare.