Chilaquiles at Nuevo Leon ($4.75)

The chilaquiles at Nuevo Leon are awesome, but so are the beans hiding at the top of the plate. [Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

I have never been unhappy with a meal at Nuevo Leon. I've also never eaten there without ordering the refried beans. This does not seem coincidental.

There's no secret to why the beans ($1.95 for a small, $3.95 for a medium, $6.95 for an awe-inspiring large) are so good; they're packed with more lard than any refritos you're likely to find anywhere. You feel it on the first bite, you feel it as you keep shoveling more beans onto your plate despite your best efforts to stop. You feel it as you toss and turn at night, gullet set aflame by heartburn, knowing in your heart of hearts that this was still a good decision.

As a result, the beans take on an impressive crust from the pan they're cooked in, a layer of crisped starch worth savoring as much as freshly set pudding skin. Their interior is creamy and rich but decidedly beany, loose rather than clumpy—you can thank the lard for that, too.

But it's not just pork fat that makes these beans. It's the layers of spices, onion, and chilies that get added in. They bake into the core of the beans, making for a side dish that has more dimension and texture than some of the main courses. Can a restaurant's showstopper be an unassuming side dish? At Nuevo Leon, the answer is yes.

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the editor of Serious Eats: New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

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