Snowed out by the passing winter blizzard, our trip to Philly was canceled and Jay somehow came across this charmingly hidden Mexican gem in the East Village, Itzocan Cafe, through his “secret source.” Given it was hot chocolate week in the City, we naturally had to give the Mexican Hot Chocolate a shot. Bold with cream and sharpened with a cinnamony aftertaste, it was perfect for that frosty Winter day.
As for the food, don’t be misled by its tattered awning and rickety tables. Most often these hole in the walls are where you’ll find the most diverse, authentic culinary treasures throughout the City. And boy was this one of those instances! Each plate burst with its own unique flavor. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the ingredients, there’s no disputing that each zest, each tang was inimitable in and of itself.
So first – my huevos ahogados – a set of delicate poached eggs floating in a tomatillo soup with cactus leaf and epazote. The base was a green tomato puree with bisque-like consistency, but the kick originates from the shreds of pickled cactus meat and epazote herb, which may either come off wonderfully exotic or frightening foreign. While I couldn’t take in the entire bowl, I could still appreciate the originality behind the concoction.
As for everything else, it was nothing but nods of approval around the table. Stevie’s shredded beef and mushroom quesadilla was solid and juicy. Jay’s Chile Relleno stuffed pepper was chaotically potent with just the right amount of spice. Glor and her veggie poached eggs highlighted their creativity. Poached eggs don’t just have to sit on top of English muffins. They can soak in broth like mine, or in this case sit embedded in a baked hodgepodge of corn, zucchini, and carrots.
Caroline went for the classic huevos rancheros, except probably the most authentic of any you’ll find in the city brunch scene. Its sunny-side eggs sank comfortably among the colorful salsa, sour cream, and crispy tortilla. Derrick had, what I thought, was the surprise of the meal. Visually ordinary, his Mexican Omelete seemed like just a fluffy pillow of scrambled eggs. But upon digging in, the oaxaca cheese, jalapenos, and (my favorite) cilantro, ruptured from the yellow blanket with invigorating flavor.
Phew! That was a mouthful, but all in all, what I’m trying to say is that everyone should pay this place a visit. And despite its makeshift heater and limited capacity, if you look past its murky window, you’ll find a humbly hung certificate from the Michelin authorities, awarding Itzocan one extremely difficult-to-get Bib Gourmand star.