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Dining Out: El Coyote — Jamaica eatery offers authentic Mexican variety

Since we received a recommendation for El Coyote in Jamaica by a trusted friend, our favorite pipeline to great new finds, we rushed right over. We won’t deny being put off by our first glimpse of this establishment — an awning encrusted with pigeon droppings. Not the most appetizing introduction. Still, we soldiered on.

We entered a long, narrow, mostly anonymous restaurant space with a casual overlay of Mexican artifacts. The tables are laid out in crosswise rows, so that if the restaurant were busy, the wait staff would have difficulty reaching the diners closest to the wall without disturbing those closest to the aisle. El Coyote also has a space for al fresco dining, weather permitting.

The menu here is comprehensive to say the least. It runs the gamut from “antojitos Mexicanos” (literally translating as Mexican whims), those corn-based dishes like tacos, enchiladas and chimichangas, to more ambitious entrees like red snapper or shrimp Veracruz-style, and even American-style breakfasts.

We are always drawn to whatever a restaurant describes as its house specialties. It’s only logical that they know what they do best. That line of reasoning was borne out by their house special guacamole al molcajete.

The guacamole is prepared tableside to your specifications (mild, medium or spicy) in a molcajete, the basalt Mesoamerican mortar used with a tejolote, the Mesoamerican pestle. Its irregular surface yields a unique chunky texture and imparts a special flavor, which comes from the history of the molcajete itself. Because of its rough volcanic texture, a molcajete can never be completely washed, and is therefore seasoned by repeated uses, much like a cast-iron pan. We enjoyed the spectacle almost as much as the excellent result.

Sombreros rellenos are another house specialty app. Green plaintains are formed roughly into the shape of a hat (or an inverted flying saucer) and deep-fried. The depression in the middle (crown of the somebreroi) is then filled with your choice of shrimp, ground beef, chicken or pork. The fried pork filling was perfectly balanced, with almost equal amounts of sweetly caramelized onions and garlic.

Each of the six sombreros was like a gigantic, weighty French fry. It’s worth digging into the filling and only eating a circumspect amount of the sombreros. We were grateful that this wasn’t one of those chain restaurants that posts calorie counts.

The nopales salad, dressed in a tangy-sweet tamarind vinaigrette, is deliciously different. It brings together cactus leaves with Oaxaca cheese (similar to mozzarella), romaine lettuce, tomato, avocado, radish and carrots. This very substantial salad is great for sharing. Just beware of those innocent-looking but fiery carrot coins — they are the only spicy items in the salad, but they operate by stealth.

The mariscada en salsa verde claims to combine shrimp, lobster, crabs, clams and mussels in a green tomatillo sauce. We say “claims” because we didn’t come across any lobster that we were aware of, but did find plenty of squid. The green sauce was pleasingly well-seasoned, but the quality of the seafood was only middling. There were two whole crabs, but they yielded almost no meat and, served in piping hot sauce, were hot, slippery and almost impossible to attack.

Bisteca ala Mexicana could have passed for any pan-Latino style rather than identifiably Mexican. Aside from a circle of nopale strips surrounding the meat, the flavors were characterless and the sirloin tough.

Desserts include all the Mexican faves like sopapillas (fried tortillas with sprinkled with honey and cinnamon and served with ice cream), pastel de tres leches, flan and so forth. They also offer a selection of batidos — fruit milk shakes.

The Bottom Line

El Coyote offers a vast selection of Mexican specialties. You can eat frugally by choosing their inexpensive platters or by sharing the pricier entrees. They get high marks for convenient location. They have their own parking in the rear, and the 179th Street subway station is at their front door. Be sure not to miss the guacamole al molcajete.

El Coyote Mexican Restaurant

178-27 Hillside Ave.

Jamaica, NY 11432

718-558-5931

Price Range: Appetizers: $2–$12.95; entrees: $10.95–$34.95

Cuisine: Mexican

Setting: Long, narrow, a little cramped

Service: Attentive, efficient

Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tues.—Sun.; closed Mon.

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: Full bar

Parking: Lot in rear

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: No

Takeout: Yes

Credit Cards: Yes

Noise Level: Acceptable

Handicap Accessible: Wheelchair access to restroom is difficult if not impossible.

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