You would be forgiven if you spent the last couple of years biking by Plaza Ortega without giving it a second thought.
One, because Myrtle under the elevated line can be pretty hairy, with its ripped-up road and zero clearance for cyclists—take the lane over here for sure—and deserves your full attention.
But also, you're in Bushwick, where there are tons of good taquerias lurking in the back of bodegas (and, to be honest, a few pretty lousy ones as well), so if you live around here you probably already have a favorite spot or two.
From the outside, Plaza Ortega doesn't exactly scream hidden gem, what with the blade flags and giant food stickers sitting at the base of one of those new "luxury" residential buildings that have sprouted up all over this area in the past decade or so.
Ah, but pull over for a moment and consider this: there's a surprising amount of seating here, both inside and outside, so it functions as an actual restaurant in addition to being a well-stocked market. And, as will become clear as soon as you tuck into your tray of tacos and tortas and whatever else you ordered, Plaza Ortega serves some really terrific food.
The owner is Jose Ortega, who grew up in Puebla, about two hours southeast of Mexico City, then lived in Queens for about two decades before moving to Long Island five years ago. Ortega has cooked for a living his entire New York life, though as he told Hell Gate after we feasted the other day, this is the first time he's ever served his food at a Mexican restaurant.
His previous gig, before COVID put an abrupt end to things? "I was working at a place in Times Square for 12 years, called Tonic," Ortega said. "A sports bar right across the street from the M&M Store." Hell yeah? Anyway, if he can keep up the quality here on Myrtle, those days of feeding the tourist hordes and drunk office bros are definitely over.
There's a lot going on at Plaza Ortega. A dessert counter stands by the front entrance, with freezers filled with paletas and tubs of ice cream for scooping. You can also get an acai bowl up here, though that feels like a stretch. The market area is festive and fun, with an excellent selection of Mexican snacks, sweets, and sauces.
But if you're here to eat dinner, go right to the counter about halfway through the place, check out the menu, place your order, grab the little number sign, and find a place to sit. Out front on Myrtle, semi-shielded by plant life, are several tables, and inside in the back are a bunch of stools in a spiffy new tiled bar/dining area, party music blasting from the TV.
The menu is lengthy and appealing, and everything is good, but get the Birria Combo, which features three saucy, stewed-meat tacos—Ortega uses beef for his birria—and a bowl of what just might be the absolute best consomme in town. Seriously: you will definitely want to straight-up drink this stuff. Ortega also makes Birria Ramen, which is just a Cup o' Noodles prepared with the consomme and meat.
Another big winner here is the Gringa, a flat flour tortilla that comes grilled and gooey with melted cheese and piled with your choice of meat. I recommend the Campechano for this beast, which is chopped up beef and chorizo, mixed together, and topped with crisp potato sticks. Dump some of the green sauce on this beauty for an extra jolt of pleasure. In fact, the Gringa is so good I'd say skip the regular fish taco, and the regular al pastor one, and just get another one of these instead.
The Milanesa de Pollo Torta also rules. This is a big, juicy sandwich, not too bready, loaded with chicken cutlet, avocado, jalapeno, lots of soft, salty queso blanco, mayo, and a smear of black beans. So good. Ortega and his crew also make burritos, Enchiladas Suizas, chilaquiles, nachos—enough variety to keep things lively. Did you just move into that $3,700-a-month apartment upstairs? Oh man, you are set for meals from here on out.
Hell Gate total for two, including tax but excluding tip and a very good Mango Chamoyoda: $39.22
Plaza Ortega is located at 140 Stanhope Street, at the corner of Myrtle Avenue, and is currently open on Thursday through Tuesday from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Closed Wednesdays (347-365-1086)