Some people get their 10,000 steps marching in place by the office printer every day, while others prefer to get outside and walk. Those in the second group know that it’s easy to discover new restaurants when you’re just wandering around. Most of these places are only known to people who live nearby, but some are good enough that they should be known to everyone. Only a few are like Calaca, a Mexican spot in Bed-Stuy that feels extremely casual, but takes its food and drinks really seriously.
If you don’t notice the chalkboard sign on the sidewalk listing the daily Happy Hour and cash-only policy, it’s easy to pass this place without even noticing it. Don’t make that mistake. Because while on the surface, Calaca just looks like a dark, tiny tequila bar - with a soundtrack heavy on punk rock, and a waitstaff that consists of one bartender who’s usually too busy to notice that you’ve been standing in the entranceway for five minutes - it also serves some really great Mexican food. And sooner or later, that bartender will walk over and pat you on the back while asking if you’re interested in a drink.
Once you have a spicy margarita or a flight of mezcal in front of you, start exploring the short food menu. Despite the small size of the kitchen, plenty of key ingredients are made in-house, from the thick chips that hold up no matter how much guacamole you pile on them, to the hot sauce that you should lather on the queso fundido, to the flour and corn tortillas that are cooked to order. The tacos and quesadillas involve those excellent tortillas and some really good fillings like braised shrimp and slow-roasted pork, but the meat and seafood can get lost under a bit too much cheese or mayo. If you think there’s no such thing as too much cheese or mayo, then please accept our apologies, perhaps go see a doctor, and order one of everything. But we prefer to get a couple tacos or quesadillas, then some of the tostadas, which are topped with big portions of various ceviches like butterflied shrimp, tuna, or red snapper.
While there’s no bad order here, especially considering almost everything is under $8, you do need to be in the right state of mind to enjoy Calaca. There’s a good chance you’ll spend extended periods of time waiting around with an empty glass, so don’t come here if you’re in a rush, or with someone who can’t just chill and talk about the pros and cons of various Mario Kart characters. Come with a date or some friends who will be happy to order a few drinks at a time, and then forget about the delays when the bartender apologizes with mezcal shots and a bowl of fried grasshoppers. It’s easy to lose track of time here, and by the end of dinner, it’s easy to lose track of how many rounds of tostadas and tequila you’ve consumed as well. So consider taking an Uber home, unless you still haven’t gotten your 10,000 steps today.
The housemade chips are thick but still crispy, and can scoop as much guacamole as you want. As for the guacamole itself, it’s so soft it almost tastes whipped. We just wish there were more of it.
The only reason you shouldn’t order this is if you’re lactose intolerant. Even then, you have a serious decision to make. The cheese is hot and melted, but it keeps its structure to the point that you can pull it higher and higher and it won’t snap. It comes with housemade tortillas, which you should use to scoop up the cheese, mushrooms, and (also housemade) hot sauce.
Some things are worth waiting for, like new Star Wars movies, the perfect proposal, and the tortillas here, which are made to order. We also enjoy the fillings, like braised shrimp and mahi-mahi that’s not overly fried. We just wish they didn’t cover up the flavors with quite so much cheese and mayo.
The flour tortillas they use for these taste fluffy and a bit buttery, like crepes, and every quesadilla has the ideal amount of melted cheese. The pescado one is very fishy in a good way (assuming you like fish), but our favorite is the carnitas, which has a lot of braised pork as well as some pretty intense pork fat.
This is the part of the menu you should devote most of your focus and stomach space to. We recommend getting a sampler, which includes any three tostadas for $17. Considering that each fried tortilla is topped with a big portion of a ceviche, it’s definitely worth the price. The one with ceviche de camaron comes with shrimp and some cilantro mayo, piled high so they spill over the sides as you pick it up. The best one, though, is the atun - raw tuna in sour orange juice that’s perfectly balanced by avocado and mint on top.