New York’s Mexican Moment: 9 Restaurant Debuts that Will Make You Forget California and Texas
Ever seen a New Yorker’s eyes light up when they visit L.A. and tuck into a plate of authentic, spice-packed Cali-Mex? Or the way they ogle a food truck taco in Austin with passion-fueled lust? It’s an unadulterated foodgasm. Despite Manhattan’s world-envied culinary scene, Mexican food has lived a bland, over-cheesed existence here—until now. A tsunami of chefs and restaurateurs with serious south-of-the-border cred have flooded the landscape over the last year or so. Read on for the nine most exciting openings.
Empellon al Pastor
The deets: An intensive research trip to Mexico inspired Alex Stupak’s latest, a casual no-res tortilleria in the Alphabet City. It’s the kind of spot that has graffiti-strewn walls, chalkboard menus, communal standing-only tables, and paper plates. But most importantly, killer $4 street-style tacos.
Don’t miss: The al pastor taco: chili-rubbed pork shaved off a trompo, with onions, cilantro, and a slice of pineapple on a thin housemade corn tortilla.
The deets: Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera’s splashy U.S. premiere cranked up the local foodie hype machine to max capacity. While his Pujol restaurant back home remains a best-list topper for its elaborate tasting menu, his approach in Manhattan’s Flatiron District hews toward elevated small plates.
Don’t miss: The ultra-tender duck carnitas for two take four days to prepare and are cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, ancho chili peppers, and orange. Oh ya, and Mexican Coke.
The deets: A boisterous Tex-Mex canteen in Gramercy Park with San Antonio-style puffy tacos and an assortment of quesos.
Don’t miss: The avocado-and-cilantro frozen margaritas are powerful and a godsend in summer.
The deets: After mastering nouveau American at Cookshop and Hundred Acres, and market-driven Italian at Vic’s, Chef Marc Meyer decided to try his hand at traditional Mexican. In the East Village, grab one of the 12 seats around the comal where the cooks grind masa and turn out antojitos, or street snacks.
Don’t miss: Guiso de Puerco, a stew of pork ribs, plantains, pineapple, olives, raisins, and almonds.
The deets: Monterrey, Mexico transplant and Iron Chef America contestant Julieta Ballesteros (Crema, Los Feliz) modernizes classic dishes at her new West Village taqueria appointed with objets from Mexico.
Don’t miss: The chorizo-based De Fideo tacos, stuffed with tomato-jalapeño bird’s nest pasta and cotija cheese.
The deets: Nightlife impresarios Jon Neidich (Happiest Hour, Acme) and Jean-Marc Houmard (Acme, Indochine) are behind this Asian-influenced Mexican spot on the Lower East Side, which just debuted a color-splashed tequila disco below ground in May.
Don’t miss: The family-style pork chop, steeped in coconut milk and served with a spicy Thai chimichurri sauce.
The deets: Insects are the star at this cocktail loungey East Village hangout, from the jumbo ant painting on the wall to bug-engrained tiles to grasshopper mezcal bisque.
Don’t miss: The ant-dusted jerk chicken, with Amarillo chile and garlic green beans; one of the worm salt-rimmed cocktails.
El Vez Burrito
The deets: Chef Stephen Starr’s burrito-bar spinoff of adjacent El Vez in Battery Park City offers diverse ingredients like Korean BBQ beef, charred pineapple salsa, and green chile queso.
Don’t miss: The calorie-explosion known as the Frito Pie, a burrito with ground beef, cilantro lime rice, black beans, green chile queso, pico de gallo, salsa roja, corn chips, sour cream, and pickled jalapeño.
Café El Presidente
The deets: The latest from the taco slanging Tacombi team: an airy, Flatiron District “mercado” with checkerboard floors, an agua fresca bar, and tortilla making station that evokes Yucatán food markets.
Don’t miss: Chef Jason DeBriere’s Montauk sea bream tacos on tortillas made in-house from Heritage pork lard.