“Wanna get those tacos again?” my socially distanced date asked me the second time we’re about to meet.
Obviously I want to get those tacos again.
I live right across the street from Los Hermanos, Tortilleria Mexicana and there I can spend $9.75 on three tacos that could fill me up twice, two tortillas that heave under piles of meat, sour cream, cilantro, shredded lettuce, onion, and three wedges of lime and red and green salsas you squeeze on yourself.
Los Hermanos also doubles as a fully functioning tortilla factory and so I also buy a bag of around thirty tortillas for $1.25. When I do, the man at the cash register brings me out of the food service area into the bigger warehouse where there are dozens of boxes of tortillas stacked, and through a plastic curtain I can see someone using an enormous machine to make them. He takes a bag of tortillas out of a box and when he hands them to me, they’re still warm.
My order is two chicken tacos and one carnitas—half the time, the carnitas is incredible and half the time, the meat is far too gristly. I would never normally order chicken when there’s carnitas or al pastor on the menu, but these are exquisite. It’s not the shredded chicken breast you could find at another taco place or the grilled chicken you get in a California-style burrito— this is dark meat, and it’s shredded inconsistently. This is important because every now and then you hit a coveted rounded piece of chicken leg, and there are at least three three in every taco.
The chicken is barely flavored— it tastes like it’s been slow cooked in a very salty brine— and this makes it all the better. The flavors at Los Hermanos come, instead, from the salsa. As the employee puts my tacos on a paper plate wrapped in tinfoil and inside of a now-contraband plastic bag, the woman behind the counter asks, “Would you like red or green sauce?” and I always answer that yes please, I would like both.
When I dip my finger in to test them they burn my tongue, but somehow when I dump each full cup over three tacos, it’s perfect. When I finish eating, my mouth is tingling with the perfect amount of heat. The red sauce is spicy and warm, but fresh— nothing like a vinegary hot-sauce. The green sauce is equally spicy- it’s a tomatillo salsa and not a creamy avocado one. It’s the type of spicy that is cold and refreshing enough for a hot day.
The chorizo is a favorite (it’s been written about in The Infatuation, New York Magazine, and the New York Times), it’s cinnamon-y and sweet and served with potato— but I think it’s too sweet and the consistency too mashed. The spicy fried pork enchilada has the same deep red pepper flavor as their red salsa— but you don’t need to order deeply flavored meat with salsas as good as theirs.
The steak and the salted beef, which seem to be the same, are another manifestation of the perfection of their brine. It brings me back to the kitchen table of my childhood home, eating corned beef and cabbage. Somehow, this works in a taco too.
There is nothing innovative or exciting in any of the ingredients at Los Hermanos. Each item on the menu item offers the same ingredients in a different carbohydrate: the taquitos are tacos on miniature tortillas; the tostadas come on a crispy tortilla and the torta comes on a bread that tastes like a supermarket baguette. The quesadilla (which includes a generous serving of sliced avocado), comes on a thick tortilla made to order. I watch the cook scrape dough out of a five gallon bucket that’s turned on its side, leaving the marks of his fingers in the slab of dough.
On a weeknight there’s no line. There’s no nothing that announces the food; just an old sign over the door that advertises the tortilla factory and the types of tortillas they make. Like many Bushwick institutions, Los Hermanos is in a garage. The menu is stuck to the window outside, written in Spanish first with the English translation after. It looks like it was designed in the nineties, and each menu item is accompanied by a low quality photograph.
The staff is not friendly, but polite. You pick up one of the menus on the counter, a note card, and a pen, and write down what you want. I wait outside, and somehow they always remember my face and come find me with my food.
In late January, there are still Christmas decorations hung up outside. The decorations look like they haven’t been touched in ten years. The Virgin of Guadalupe hangs behind the front counter, and in the main garage where there are tables set up to eat, decorated mirrors, knickknacks placed on brightly painted shelves, and framed photographs of festivals that look like pictures from the cover of a Lonely Planet guide book.
In Bushwick, Los Hermanos is a welcome respite from places like Blackseed Bagel and the sleek coffee shops selling matcha lattes that have moved into buildings made to look exactly like the warehouse where Los Hermanos has always been. It d a taste of something that feels old and authentic amidst the intentional and the curated.
Located right off the L train Jefferson stop, Los Hermanos remains a rare find.
A tortilla factory that also sells tacos
271 Starr Street, Bushwick (off the Jefferson Avenue stop on the L train)
Follow Hermanos: Facebook
Mon- Fri: 11:30 am – 11:30 pm
Sat: 12:00 pm – 10:30 pm
Sun: 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Top picture by Elaine Velie.
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