Compared to just a few years ago, when much of the Mexican food in town resembled gussied-up versions of Old El Paso make-at-home taco kits, it feels like Berlin is awash in mediocre-tasting tacos now. That’s a tentative improvement, but our Mexican food scene is lacking variety: not counting Americanised Tex-Mex like nachos and burritos, it’s tacos all the way down. If you’re in the market for tamales or pozole, it can feel like you’re in the culinary wilderness.
Its tiny dining room has a nonchalant vibe, with a patterned plastic tablecloths…devoid of try-hard trendy accoutrements
Chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast dish dating back to pre-Columbian times, falls squarely in this category of Berlin rarities, which is surprising since it’s a very simple dish. Its basic building blocks are just two components: fried tortillas and the sauce they’re coated in. The dish is a great way to reinvigorate leftovers: stale tortillas can be given new life by frying and topping them with other ingredients readily on hand in a Mexican kitchen, like eggs, cheese, onion or shredded meat. If done right (that is, not with Lidl tortilla chips and jarred salsa), chilaquiles are a humble but wildly delicious dish – and there’s one place that does them with flair: Oh La Queca.
Located on a residential stretch of Neukölln’s Reuterstraße, its tiny dining room has a nonchalant vibe, with a patterned plastic tablecloths and painted brick walls devoid of try-hard trendy accoutrements like exposed wood, neon signage, or €15 margaritas (in fact, there are no cocktails at all).
Chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast dish dating back to pre-Columbian times, falls squarely in this category of Berlin rarities
Aesthetics aside, the chilaquiles check all the boxes. Number one, the chips. Made in-house with quality corn tortillas that wield flavour, they’re fried to a crisp and hold up under sauce instead of flaccidly succumbing to it. The quality is no surprise: Oh La Queca started out as the tortilla pop-up Madre Tortilla. It uses nixtamalised cornmeal for the tortilla dough, which involves cooking the cornmeal in an alkaline solution (such as limewater), resulting in a superior taste. Number two, the sauce. You have a choice between salsa verde or roja, both rich and deeply flavourful. The green is a tangy beast made with tomatillos, coriander, jalapeno and avocado. For a more earthy route, the red sauce has tomatoes, smoked chilis and pineapple (admittedly, this makes them a little nontraditional, but the extra pop of sweetness is sensational).
Oh La Queca goes beyond the bare-bones, sauce-n-tortillas chilaquiles, serving the dish with crema (think sour cream but richer), crumbled sheep milk cheese, onion, radishes and coriander. A fried egg or shredded chicken are optional, the egg is a particularly solid choice if you’re there during brunch hours on Friday to Sunday. Beyond Oh La Queca, only a handful of Berlin’s Mexican eateries offer chilaquiles. Of these, Maria Bonita in Prenzlauer Berg deserves an honourable mention, with tasty sauces, although I’m less of a fan of the American-style Monterrey Jack cheese that’s in play there.
- Oh La Queca, Reuterstr. 36, Neukölln. Check out their Instagram here.