I’ve long lamented my struggle to find a solid Mexican food fix in Baltimore. I know it’s not a matter of whether there are good tacos and tortas in Charm City, but instead whether I take the time to burst my personal Hopkins bubble and seek these spots out.
Thankfully, some of the palates I trust most on campus have my back. Jesse, Your Weekend’s editor, and my girlfriend, a Chicago native who considers herself a taco connoisseur, both spoke highly of Cocina Luchadoras in upper Fells Point. Bon Appetit echoed their recommendations in a recent taco-centric edition of the magazine, so I decided to head downtown last Sunday and try the lauded taqueria for myself.
As soon as I spotted the eatery from across the intersection of South Broadway and Gough, I knew this was my kind of place. The color-blocked windows spilled Mexican vibrancy onto the sidewalk, where patrons in laminated wooden booth seating drowned Sunday morning hangovers in the salsa roja draped over their enchiladas.
A mid-century Pepsi sign left over from the business that last occupied the corner lot (don’t ask why, but other people’s stuff is my favorite genre of restaurant decor) swung gently over the door. The restaurant’s logo, complete with the visage of their patron saint, Frida Kahlo, hung over the faded lettering.
Inside, the women who run Cocina Luchadoras have managed to fill the shell of a modest lunch counter with the trappings that make it an experience in itself.
Portraits of generations of badass women — including no fewer than eight appearances by Santa Kahlo — adorn the walls, along with such gems as a needlepoint sampler depicting machismo at rest six feet below a bed of flowers and a headstone.
It’s not a stretch to say the decor is an important part of conveying both the allure and the soul of Cocina Luchadoras.
In fact, owner Rosalyn Vera makes a point of posting explicitly anti-Trump messages in the windows, which drew the ire of tone-policing Yelp hardos and even a death threat from a local psycho last year. I have no doubt the ladies behind the counter could take those keyboard Klansmen on the street if necessary (kneading masa is hard on the triceps), but I’m glad to hear it hasn’t come to that.
But you came here to hear about tacos, right? Well I’m happy to report that they’re as good as any offerings I’ve had on the East Coast (no, I’ve never been to L.A. Stop yelling). For one, the tortillas were unquestionably fresh. Tender, full of deep corn flavor, and a touch thicker than I expected, they practically outshone the gifts they enclosed.
The carnitas were the best filling by far, as the grilled options like al pastor and carne asada were just a bit dry. That wasn’t the end of the world, as the Cocina’s homemade salsas were practically worth mainlining, but I still preferred the fatty shredded pork and the sufficiently greasy chorizo.
The tamales, perhaps my favorite section of every Mexican menu, were a standout. The pork in the first one I sampled had an extremely savory character (think Chinese pork floss), while its warm masa blanket emanated a nutty fresh corn aroma.
I was even more thrilled by the tamale oaxaqueño, a banana leaf–wrapped version stuffed with shredded chicken and rich mole.
As solid as these bites were, however, nothing came close to the masterpiece that was the torta de carnitas. For one, the molten fat from the pork instantly vanquished my headache as the three ibuprofen I’d downed could not.
A thicket of iceberg lettuce (the canonically superior option) and an adequate splice of mayo cooled things off a bit, while the traditional telera roll enveloping this gift cemented its place as my favorite sandwich outside of New Jersey. I can only imagine how good it is with some solid in-season tomatoes replacing the grainy winter selections.
And before we’re done here, it’s worth mentioning that the horchata I slammed along with these plates put the uber-sweet Rice Dream brand one I put in my coffee (don’t look at me like that) to shame. The Cocina also offers an array of aguas frescas and Mexican sodas to accompany your hangover cure.
Suffice it to say that I’ve finally, after nearly four years in Charm City, found my Baltimore Mexican fix. Although, I should caution that my search isn’t quite over, as I’ll be heading back to Cocina Luchadoras this weekend to give their specialty breakfast platters and the rest of their taco fillings a try. Hope to see you there.