Notes of piquant flavors are prominent in Clara Melchor’s dishes, stimulating the palate and creating an urge to devour mouthful after mouthful.
At El Diablito Taqueria, the chef and co-owner adds her own twists to classic dishes from her hometown of Puebla, Mexico.
Take the eponymous tacos, for example. Tacos Al Pastor ($9) typically feature marinated pork that is slow-roasted on a vertical spit. Melchor chooses instead to grill it for a more toothsome result with a hint of char. Adding the signature pineapple lends a playful tanginess.
Melchor has been cooking Mexican cuisine for 20 years, starting in her teenage years alongside her mother. Her experienced hand shows in the Pescado (fish) Tacos ($9.95), fried to perfect crunchiness in a light batter, and topped with chipotle mayo and shredded red cabbage that teases a light sweetness.
The Vegetarian Enchilada ($9.95) is a glorious mixture of nopal cactus (prickly pear), calabacita (Mexican squash), poblano chili, and zucchini stuffed inside a tortilla, which is then showered with pico de gallo, lettuce, sour cream, cheese, and sliced avocadoes. A saucy pool of black beans and tomatillo salsa—the source of that pleasant zing to your tastebuds—cools down the spicy kick that emerges now and then.
Badly prepared cactus can be tasteless, but thankfully, Melchor knows exactly how to grill and season the cactus and other vegetables—instead of just boiling them. The cactus’s slippery, yet chewy texture makes the dish particularly memorable.
Chile Relleno ($12.95) usually comes with a red tomato-based sauce, but Melchor decided to use chipotle and orange tomatillo instead, creating an orange hue visually, and a smoky, yet acidic edge taste-wise. Melchor insists on using Mexican cheese to stuff the poblano pepper, sourced from cities like Oaxaca and Chihuahua. The cheese has a fresh, clean taste reminiscent of mozzarella, but with a texture that’s firm and squeaky against the teeth when you bite it.
If you’re stopping by El Diablito during morning hours, try the Chilaquiles Rojos ($9.95). The breakfast dish consists of tortilla chips with salsa de árbol and sour cream poured over and crowned with sunny-side-up eggs and pico de gallo. The dish is simple, but so incredibly comforting, with the chips soaking up the flavorful goodness.
Melchor’s menu proves that paying attention to the details and improving on them, is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.
60 E. Third St. (between First & Second avenues)
Monday to Friday 4 p.m.–11 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.–11 p.m.