Chicken Enchiladas With Guajillo Chile Sauce: Downtown Bakery vs. Puebla Mexican Food in the East Village
Nearly two decades ago, as the first big wave of southern Mexican immigration was making itself felt in NYC, two old and not particularly good Italian bakeries on First Avenue in the East Village were transformed into Mexican-Italian bakeries.
Though the places were only two blocks apart, they both pursued the same course -- continuing to make Italian-American breads and cookies, while gradually adding a short menu of prepared Mexican food, principally to meet the dining needs of Mexicans who increasingly came to work in the area's shops and restaurants.
Though many of the hot foods they served were southern Mexican standards, the owners of Puebla Mexican Food & Coffee Shop (47 First Avenue, 212-473-6643) and Downtown Bakery (69 First Avenue, 212-254-1757) were not oblivious to the charms of American-Mexican food, and soon burritos appeared, which was the hook to get East Villagers to try the places for anything other than a quick coffee and bag of cookies.
Well, time passed as it usually does, and the Italian stuff withered away, while the Mexican menu grew. The places were also spiffed-up somewhat, and a handful of actual tables appeared in each. The miracle is that both places are still open, and offer menus with a host of sophisticated southern Mexican cooking.