We’ve got a new bite for your must-try bucket list: the Boca Santa chicharrón quesadilla. Salty, crispy deep-fried pork belly meets creamy-stringy Mexican cheese. Crunchy ribbons of purple cabbage, bright, fresh cilantro, and spicy-tart salsa verde balance the meaty-cheesy richness. The whole affair is folded into a freshly made corn tortilla, toasty and delicious. The chicharrón quesadilla is reason enough to visit this new Mexican home cooking joint in Bed-Stuy, but it’s definitely not the only reason to root for this new little spot.
While many new restaurants can feel a little stiff until they get into their groove, at night, this dark, candlelit spot has the friendliness of a place that’s been around forever. When I met my friend at the still-empty restaurant at 6:30, she was busy chatting with a guy who introduced himself when I arrived. I introduced myself back, not realizing that he was our server; not her friend. (Oops!) By 7:30, the place was completely packed, with more people rolling in, toting brown paper bags of wine bottles and beer cans, like a BYOB restaurant disguised as a house party.
The space feels more like an apartment than a restaurant, with plants all over and a couple of shelves lined with baratijas (that is, Mexican tchotchkes). An open kitchen sits the center of the room, and closely spaced tables are set along the walls. The corner table was so tightly squeezed-in that we had to shift our chairs to make room for the servers and staff. This just added to the pleasant dinner party vibes. The woman bussing the tables was chef-owner Natalie Hernandez.
“The atmosphere at Boca Santa means a great deal to me, it’s my home,” Hernandez wrote in an email interview after my visit. “I want my guests to feel like it’s my home, I want them to feel welcome, I thoroughly want them to enjoy themselves, and I want them to feel great energy in the space.”
Another standout quality that sets Boca Santa apart from other Mexican spots is the focus on fresh, seasonal vegetables. Here, the vegetarian options are plentiful. In fact, on the night of our visit, neither of the tacos included meat. One included a saucy mole over earthy roasted potatoes, sweet caramelized onions, bitter radicchio, mild queso fresco and crunchy pepitas. The other combined savory refried black beans with charred scallions, kale, and tomato, plus queso fresco, cilanto, and peppery radish. Other vegetarian options include the butternut squash quesadilla and black bean quesadillas, through chorizo and the aforementioned chicharrón work their way into quesadillas, too. On the appetizer menu, we’d suggest ordering one elote per person—an ear of corn is too difficult to split and Boca Santa’s take on the Mexican street food is really too good to share. Wash it all down with housemade hibiscus agua frescas and save room for some sweet and creamy arroz con leche for dessert.
Hernandez plans to start serving brunch in the next month or so, and she also has some meaty ideas in mind: “We are excited about having some sort of slow-cooked protein on the weekends—true to Mexican culture… Meat, as in most cultures, isn’t consumed daily but is seen as a special treat.”
In a city where most Mexican restaurant are meat-driven, Boca Santa’s traditional fare feels fresh and new. It’s worth a trip to central Bed-Stuy to check it out, and it’s set up to become a regular hangout for nearby neighbors. “I’ve lived in Bed-Stuy for the past 10 years and I absolutely love it. I love the neighborhood vibe Bed-Stuy gives off, the pride the community has of residing here,” Hernandez says. “I just wanted to be a neighborhood spot and I think Bed-Stuy and its community 100% lends itself to that. I love it here.”
Boca Santa is located at 480 Madison Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant; no reservations; no phone. Tues-Sun 5:30-10:30pm, brunch coming soon.