End of an era: MatamorosMy favorite restaurant, "Matamoros Puebla Grocery," closed on Sunday.
Matamoros (named after the region the owners were from) was a Mexican grocery store with a taquería (taco shop) in back. They made scrumptuous tacos, tostadas, tortas, tamales, huaraches, quesadillas and pozole. Everything was cheap (between $2 and $5) and they made the best Mexican food in the city.
I had walked by Matamoros for about a year without looking inside. Finally, a friend took me in. In the front was a cramped Mexican bodega, full of colorful and unrecognizable canned goods, spices, boxed foods, piñatas and odd knick knacks like a goat hoof with a mounted Virgin of Guadalupe
. But behind the tiny eisles was a hidden taquería. It was tiny, and a horrible place to 'dine' - the dining area was three cheap tables, a couple of old countertops for six people, and bright flourescent lighting illuminating faded Mexican posters and a colorful array of Mexican bottled drinks. The entire thing was punctuated by loud and endless oompah-pah Mexican pop music.
But the food was amazing. Since moving to NYC, I had been searching for good Mexican food (not Tex-Mex or San Fran style "Mexican food") and found nothing. Finally, with Matamoros, I was satisfied. There was no sour cream, but good old Mexican cream. No American cheeses, but queso blanco, Oaxaca and Cotija cheese.
Matamoros was the only place I knew of that made good "pierna adobada" or "al pastor." Pierna adobada is pork marinated in a red mole sauce (made with guajillo chiles, oregano and avocado leaves). Al pastor
is mariniated spicy pork that has been cooked on a rotisserie with pineapple. Matamoros served the standard chicken, steak and chorizo, and they served cecina (a salty beef), carne enchilada (spicy beef marinated in red sauce), and a bunch of stuff that I never got into (pata (cow feet), cabeza (pork head) and lengua (beef tongue)).
All of those meats could be served in
a tostada (a fried tortilla served flat with a base of beans),
a sope (a small tortilla served flat with cream and cheese),
a huarache (like a taco, but with an oblong thin soft tortilla, hence the name, "sandal"),
a quesadilla (I think they only made this for us gringos, since it was basically a taco with a really flat tortilla),
or a torta (a sort of Mexican sandwhich with avocado and hot peppers).
They made their own tortillas daily.
On top of that, they made tamales and pozole. A few places I know make tamales, but theirs were some of the best, and I know of no place that makes pozole
(a soup my mom used to make with pork, tripe and hominy).
Years ago, they used to make gorditas, which were fat little tortillas (hence the name, "little fatty") fried together in a kind of Hot Pocket, filled with potatoes, beans or cheese, and folded like the familiar taco. They also used to make elote, roasted corn on the cob slathered with chilli sauce, mayonnaise, Mexican cheese, lime, and salt.
It was one of the cheapest restaurants I knew about.
I vaguely knew the owner, a man named Santero. It used to be owned by him and his wife, but there was a messy divorce and Santero told me that the city was weighing heavy on him. He said that he's been running his store for over ten years and felt that the city was a hard place to live. He had moved to Philidelphia a few years ago and a tattered "For Sale" sign hung in the window for at least a year. On top of everything, the landlord doubled his rent to $10,000 a month, which is a lot to make when you're selling $2 tacos. Finally, he told me he was closing the store no matter what. He was no longer looking for a buyer and was going to enjoy the quiet life in Phily. But that was several months ago, so I kept hoping that Matamoros would remain open.
Then a week ago, I noticed that all of the colorful decorations, piñata, flags and Mexicans knick knacks were gone from the upper walls. I asked the guy upfront if they were really closing, but he didn't speak English. "Finito?" I asked.
"Sí, en un o dos meses."
And then, on Sunday, I saw them moving endless boxes from the store to a van. For me, the end of an era. For me, the end of the neighborhood I used to love.