Is Smorgasburg's La Cemita Ready for a Brick-and-Mortar Location?
After a month-long residency at Whole Foods and a presences at Brooklyn's foodie bazaar Smorgasburg that commands weekend throngs, Danny Lyu's Cemita's Mexican Sandwich is primed to open a more permanent location for its Poblano-style sandwiches. But does the food warrant it?
If you've never had a cemita, see the vendor's sign for an anatomical breakdown of the dish: Mexico's largest sandwich cobbles stacks of fried meat, fistfuls of cheese, avocado, onion, beans, and chiles together onto a hard roll shellacked with egg white and innocently sprinkled with sesame seeds. If Captain Crunch used to cut the roof of your mouth as a kid, then a proper cemita will reopen old wounds -- it's a bruiser.
This stand offers a number of different cemitas every weekend, and varieties include tinga, carne asada, and carnitas ($9). Order one and you'll get your sandwich surprisingly quickly, handed over in a paper boat, sliced into two halves, and turned upwards to the sky to reveal the stratification.
It is a pretty package, layered with color and carefully placed ingredients, but the flavor doesn't pop -- this is a neutered version of the lusty monsters served at taquerias in Sunset Park and Corona. The carnitas are a beige, bland paste; the chicken, a dull wad of meat, next to mealy tomato and too much lettuce. Yes, the papalao is there, so you will contend with grassy, green burps for the rest of the day, but the roll falls apart, crumbling out of your hands to the ground.
The team also operates the Handsome Hank's Fish Hut stand next door, which features a perfectly respectable fried whiting sandwich, just as large as the cemita and plenty satisfying. Consider that instead.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city's best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.