“Breakfast tacos?” said chef Gabino Ramirez as he sat at the counter of his diner. He looked doubtful. “Okay. Eggs, scrambled, maybe some cilantro, tomato and onion. Are you sure you don’t want that in a burrito?”
On that frigid February morning, it was toasty inside Gabino’s Diner in Farmingville, a chrome-clad Kullman diner car that Ramirez purchased 13 years ago. Ramirez, who is originally from Hidalgo, north of Mexico City, cooks parallel cuisines here: American diner food such as burgers, grilled-cheese sandwiches and sundaes, and—the reason why many come here—Mexican dishes such as tortas, tacos and robust Mexican breakfasts.
A visitor may not know this, at least at first. Ramirez’s breakfast menu only lists omelets, pancakes, French toast and other familiar choices, but he’ll cook Mexican dishes to order, such as the traditional rustic huevos rancheros, or “rancher-style” fried eggs over griddled tortillas with a simple tomato sauce, a heap of refried beans and shredded farmer cheese melting across the surface. Ramirez layers slices of grilled ham into his version and drizzles spicy tomatillo salsa across the top.
That day, I was craving breakfast tacos—hot tortillas folded around eggs, cheese, maybe some chorizo sausage. Though these are easy to find in the American Southwest, breakfast tacos are scarce amid Long Island’s Mexican restaurants—and scarcer still south of the border, too, I learned by talking with Ramirez. As he tossed four corn tortillas onto one side of the grill and pooled beaten eggs onto the other, I noticed a server looking over at him, amused.
“Is this not typical in Mexico?” I asked, as Ramirez folded the scrambled eggs into the hot tortillas.
He shook his head. “No, not really.”
“What would you eat for breakfast, say, in Hidalgo?”
“Chilaquiles!” he said, grinning. This, a standard dish in Mexico, is a homey concoction of fried, shredded leftover tortillas covered with fried eggs, salsa roja or salsa verde and queso fresco, or fresh cheese. It is on Gabino’s menu, though in the lunch section. (Migas, an adaptation popular in the U.S. southwest border states, is not.)
“Why don’t you put the Mexican stuff on the breakfast menu?” I asked.
“I prefer to tell people what I have, and let them order,” said Ramirez. On any given day, his larder might include freshly braised meats, refried beans, savory Mexican rice studded with peas, fresh tortillas pressed here. “Have chilaquiles next time,” he said.
With a flourishing population from Mexico and Central and South americas—the Island’s Latin communities grew 18 percent between 2010 and 2017, according to census data—breakfast options have grown more vibrant and diverse as well. Desayuno, as it’s called in Spanish on menus here, is usually enlivened by salsas and other accompaniments, and generously sized; it’s not for dainty appetites.
Take, for instance, the squishy, melty breakfast baleada, such as the one found at Mi Pueblo in King’s Park. The year-old restaurant’s version of this Honduran specialty stars refried beans, shredded Salvadoran cheese, crema, sliced avocado and scrambled eggs, all layered into the steamy center of a large fresh flour tortilla—an envelope of breakfast goodness. “We make the tortillas ourselves,” said Mi Pueblo owner and chef José Mejia, who is from El Salvador but cooks dishes from across Central America and Mexico.
Breakfast in Central America is eaten early in the day, said Mejia, usually before 9 a.m. While Mi Pueblo doesn’t open until 10:30, they serve desayuno all afternoon. Besides the baleada, these gargantuan compositions of protein, fat and fiber include the desayuno especial: scrambled eggs with a hunk of snow-white, slightly sour Salvadoran queso, caramelized plantains (maduros), refried beans, sliced avocado and shredded beef, plus two house-pressed tortillas on the side.
The Salvadoran-style breakfast called desayuno Salvadoreño is equally gigantic, although instead of shredded beef, it relies on sliced chorizo. Salvadoran crema, slightly thicker and tangier than its Mexican counterpart, comes with both dishes.
“Do people eat this every day in El Salvador?” I asked Mejia.
“Yes. Though sometimes we might just have a pupusa for breakfast,” he said, then laughed. “Americans eat [pupusas] as appetizers.” The pupusa is a Salvadoran street food, corn dough stuffed with things such as cheese and beans—or maybe cheese and loroco, the flower buds of a vine that grows in Central America and Mexico—and then cooked on a griddle.
One common American and European breakfast component, pastry, is notably missing at both Gabino’s and Mi Pueblo. This is more than made up for at Punto Rojo 2 Bakery in Hicksville, where baked goods are key to a desayuno tipico, or typical breakfast.
The red-on-red Punto Rojo is a Colombian bakery with festive decor and cases full of rolls, empanadas, cookies and flaky pastries. Staff will gamely guide a visitor through: There are pandebonos, orbs of corn dough wrapped around the farmer cheese called cuajada; bocadillos, or empanadas filled with guava jam; and arepas, savory corn pancakes that here are filled with cheese.
Punto Rojo, which opened a decade ago in Jamaica, Queens, and will soon have six locations, has a full roster of cooked breakfast plates, too, including bandeja labriego, a heap of steak, fried eggs, beans, melted cheese, an arepa and those caramelized plantains that seem to make it onto every breakfast plate from Central America southward. If that isn’t hearty enough, there’s also a curl of fried chicharrón, or pork belly, on the edge of the plate. Next to the urns of powerful Colombian coffee is one filled with hot chocolate. “It’s not from powder,” noted a manager, winking, and I believed him: The first sip was as deeply chocolatey as it gets.
GABINO'S DINER: 777 Horseblock Rd., Farmingville; 631-698-1264, gabinos-diner.business.site. Opens daily at 9 a.m.
MI PUEBLO RESTAURANT & GRILL: 95 Pulaski Rd., Kings Park; 631-663-3442, mi-pueblo-restaurant.business.site. Opens Monday –Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday.
PUNTO ROJO 2 BAKERY: 228 W. Old Country Rd., Hicksville; 516-605-2074. Opens daily at 6:30 a.m.