>> La Placita Mexicana Deli & Grocery | Eat the World NYC

08 July 2019

La Placita Mexicana Deli & Grocery


New Brunswick, New Jersey, a growing town of about 57,000 people is most known for Rutgers University and surrounding area that firmly place it in the image of a "college town." But not far outside of the university section and the city's downtown, roads stretching south and west reveal where the growth in population is coming from, and an almost magical area containing one of the densest concentrations of Oaxacans on the east coast.

After a satisfying meal here a bit over two years ago, the feeling after looking around a bit was that the wrong establishment was chosen. Despite being delicious, other smaller locations on nearby blocks looked even more promising.

A good place to begin your explorations is at one of the oldest, La Placita Mexicana, which has evolved in its ten or so years of existence from a tiny kitchen inside a grocery to a slightly less tiny kitchen inside a grocery with a massive following. Because growth really is not an option at this original location, they have opened up two formal restaurants nearby, but the casual nature of the grocery is still preferred.

Two years ago was the opposite view.

The dining area here has grown over time in the most charming of ways, counters and tables fashioned from whatever was around and stitched together. A mishmash of stools surround these, a convivial atmosphere when a few groups and solo diners are around. The majority of people seem to come here for the gigantic tlayuda, the shining icon of Oaxacan cuisine, but the succinct menu overhead (see last photo below) also promises other antojitos, larger plates, and weekend specials.

Once you decide on your order, just tell one of the busy people cooking and it will be put on their assembly line. Ask for one of the refrescos, or make yourself a coffee, then pay for everything in the front of the store when you finish eating.

The big crispy yet stretchy tortilla used for tlayudas ($10-12, above and below) is not ever made to order, as these are actually imported from Oaxaca. This is not the same as a packaged tortillas you may see used for tacos though, as it will come back to life when put on the grill. Everyone has their own source for these, and honestly even the best places here in the east do not have access to the finest from Oaxaca as those are all seemingly reserved by Oaxacalifornians.

While not having the same durability of those A+ tlayudas, the process once you order is still the same and the finished product is very enjoyable. A layer of asiento (unrefined pork lard) and black beans creates the canvas for lettuce, the meat of your choice, stringy white Oaxacan cheese and avocado. Before the tlayuda is folded over, it is large and round, about the size of a medium pizza. Sometimes it is served without folding like at Costa Chica across the street, but at casual places and on the street the fold is done to make the dish easier to eat by hand.

Tlayuda de chorizo.

While these beauties should not be missed, you will also notice the constant dull metal pings of the tortillera de hierro, a cast iron tortilla press. Each and every tortilla for tacos here is made this way, something of a rarity for folks in New York City but what seems to be the norm in New Brunswick. If you took a strategic seat with a good view, you can watch these pressed and placed on the grill one by one, each one puffing up perfectly when cooked.

An order takes a slightly longer than usual because of this, but is well worth the extra wait. An order of three tacos ranges from $7.50 to $10, but is an enormous amount of food and gets served with a wedge of avocado.

If possible, plan your visit here on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, as the weekends only barbacoa is excellent and should not be missed. This is barbacoa de chivo ($9, above and below), goat that tastes like it has been cooking underground since midweek. Without any salsas, it already exudes so much flavor that it needs only a slight squeeze from a lime.

Barbacoa can have slight to major variations from region to region in México, but in Oaxaca it is legendary. Even in different parts of the large state it can vary wildly, available at all times of day but usually only until it runs out. Since it is so popular for breakfast in soup form, do not plan on waiting until dinner to get your fix because it is likely to have been gone for hours.

The goat meat here is complex and full of the earth. Dried chillies and nutty flavors are most noticeable, but many more evade the knowledge of an amateur palate. In fact they were so delicious that a second visit for dinner was necessary to try some other offerings and make sure tiny La Placita was not a dream. An appetite was reformed after a lot of walking and exploring to Somerset and back followed by an overpriced campus iced coffee.

On the first visit a very large order of carne asada was being cooked, and this also seemed to be one of the favorites for folks ordering tlayudas, so it was necessary in one of the tacos. Lengua (tongue), the most expensive offering was decided to be the second, and neither disappointed.

The lengua was perfectly fatty and silky with a very slight char from the grill. It is cut into very small pieces so the char reaches as many surfaces as possible. The asada is also cut very fine and even more charred but the meat here is good enough to shine through this cooking style.

Once again a seat was selected right in front of the tortillera de hierro, which hardly ever stopped. Those metal clanks are still on the mind, the siren song of Oaxacan New Brunswick.

La Placita Mexicana Deli & Grocery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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