On warmer days at produce markets in East Harlem, and in other New York neighborhoods with a large Mexican population, it's easy to spot the fellow on nopales duty. He (or she) will usually be stationed on the sidewalk out front, wearing thick gloves and wielding a sharp blade to carefully scrape smooth the spiny cactus pads. Employed as a vegetable, these nopales suggest sour, less-crisp bell peppers, and they figure in many workmanlike dishes.
Less often, as in Cocina Economica's young cactus salad ($7), nopales are part of a playful ensemble. Here they're jumbled with string beans, cilantro, radish, jicama, verdolaga, queso fresco, and toasted almonds, and dressed with serrano pepper and a lime vinaigrette.
Though not large, the salad seemed ample as well as lively, but a lamb cemita ($9) felt thin; fries helped fill out the plate. Compare a cemita from the underappreciated Cafe Ollin.
452 Amsterdam Ave. (81st-82nd Aves.), Manhattan