(This post is based on visits to the restaurant when it was called Café Ollin.) Guajillos are not known for their heat.
Incendiary capability, however, is not the sole measure of a chili pepper. The guajillo chili that flavors this brick red sauce, in concert with garlic, adds berrylike and subtly smokey overtones to meaty pork ribs and sliced cactus. Served with yellow rice, black beans, and tortillas that I wished were less stiff, come mop-up time. Costillas en chile ajo ($10).
Previously: "It may be the one Mexican foodstuff easier to find in New York than it is in Los Angeles." Food critic Jonathan Gold made that assessment in 2004, but although the cemita — the archetypal sandwich from the city of Puebla — seems to be more widely available than ever, he might well make a detour for the specimen below, even if it's served on the trim premises of an East Harlem restaurant rather than in the muscular confines of an East Los Angeles lot.
The distinctive seeded roll, in Gold's phrasing, "is sliced, crisped on the stove, and crammed full of good things. In the house version of a carne enchilada cemita ($8), they include spicy pork, pápalo, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avocado, chipotle peppers, beans, and shreds of the bland white Oaxacan cheese called quesillo. You won't want to meddle with the balance of spicy pork, creamy avocado, and chewy cheese, but if you're unfamiliar with pápalo, you might ask the counterman to go easy with this Mexican herb, or hold it altogether. Pápalo is just slightly peppery on the tongue, but for some time afterward the unmistakably insistent aroma may remind you of your meal, repeatedly, if you catch my drift. It's only a coincidence, I trust, that one meaning of "ollin," in the Nahuatl language still spoken in Central Mexico, is "tremor" or "earthquake."
Restaurant San Cristobal
339 East 108th St. (First-Second Aves.), Manhattan