Mexican

Claro

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Overview:

Taking over the space that once housed The Pines is the newest addition to Gowanus, Claro. Much of the space has remained the same with a large central bar, open kitchen and updated rustic touches like decorative tile & dishes from Oaxaca. Outside is a huge wood fired comal baking off fresh tortillas from their house ground masa, perfuming the area with the delicious smell of smoke. The concept comes from the minds of two Union Square Cafe alums, one of whom has split his time between NYC and Mexico for over a decade. This expertise went into creating a dining experience that is truly unique to this city. Inspiration for the food comes straight out of Oaxaca. Menu highlights include barbacoa, salmon ceviche with peanuts and cherries, heritage pork rib memelas (fried corn cakes), and a lobster tostada with sweet corn. The bar program focuses on mezcal, particularly the brand El Buho founded by co-owner TJ Steele. This is a cuisine that is worth knowing, and well worth getting to know at this restaurant.

Information:

Address: 284 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Phone: (347) 721-3126

Neighborhood: Gowanus

Price: $$ -$$$


 

Empellon Al Pastor


Overview:

The Empellon group is the shit. All three totally distinct locations & concepts, all totally the shit. Al Pastor is the most casual of the bunch, decked out with floor-to-ceiling graffiti art the likes of which I will never be talented enough to reproduce. The tequila heavy cocktail menu comes with a great bar food menu to boot. Once serving just tacos, Alex Stupak has expanded his offering to include tons of alcohol friendly items. There is excellent shrimp ceviche, chicken wings with peanuts & salsa macha and baby back rib carnitas. Choose from 8 different taco varieties, the best of which is a cheeseburger taco. All this from a man who worked as a pastry chef previously for a decade; pretty amazing. 

Information:

Address:  132 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009

Phone:  (646) 833-7039

Neighborhood: East Village

Website: https://www.empellon.com/al-pastor/

Price: $-$$


 

Jajaja


Overview 

Give me some tacos & tequila and I'm generally going to be a happy little girl. Jajaja is a new venture from the team behind Gelso & Grand, situated on the north side of Chinatown. The small space has a relaxed atmosphere with beautifully colored tiles and giant windows that fill the room with sunlight. The cocktails are great, and I say that as a person who generally opts to just get tequila on the rocks. The menu is unique because it is entirely plant based, vegan everything. The nachos were particularly interesting with tumeric queso, fermented black beans & veggie relish. I'm all for meaty tacos but the ones at Jajaja filled with mushrooms and mock chorizo were surprisingly hearty and satisfying. If you're feeling a grab-n-go vibe, there's a take-out counter for snacks and juices. 

Information

Address:   162 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002

Phone:      ((646) 883-5453

Neighborhood: Chinatown

Website: http://jajajamexicana.com/

Price: $$$


 

Empellon Midtown


Overview

Chef Alex Stupak has opened the fourth location of his Empellon empire. While each venue is unique, the new Midtown location is vastly different than the relaxed downtown iterations of his concept. In a very Midtown-esque fashion the restaurant is sleek, elegant, and grand. The crowd is a bit older, filled with men in business suits and tourists in the know. The menu is a largely upscale departure from Stupak's casual taquerias in the East & West Village. You'll see a wide selection of unique tacos with unexpected ingredients like pastrami and sweetbreads. Entrees are refined versions of comfort food like massive short ribs with olives and grapes or fideo with peas. I'd recommend making a meal out of the starters like the insanely creative crab & uni nachos or sticky rice duck tamales. Oh, and obviously don't skip the tequila. 

Information:

Address  510 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10022

Phone:  (212) 858-9365

Neighborhood: Midtown East

Website:  https://www.empellon.com/

Price: $$$

Good for: tequila, groups, somewhere finally decent to eat in midtown


 

Camacho's


Overview

Camacho's is a new Union Square bar from the team behind the always-packed hits The Ainsworth and Sidebar. The place is everything you want for a group - dark, loud, and full of tequila. The design is distinctly Mexican; full of day of the dead skulls and the ultra instagramable "tequila makes my clothes come off" neon sign. There is an ample menu of Mexican-eque nibbles to soak up the cocktails. You'll find obvious staples of guacamole, tostadas, cheese dusted corn, and assorted tacos. The show stopper is the massive Black Tap inspired chocolate milkshake with churros & cinnamon cookies. And you guessed it, even that can come spiked with tequila. 

Information:

Address118 E 15th St, New York, NY 10003

Phone:  (212) 677-6300

Neighborhood: Union Square   

Website : ht https://www.camachosnyc.com/

Price: $$

Attire: Casual

Good for: groups, birthdays, after work drinks, creative cocktails 


 

Lalito


Information:

Address: 104 Bayard St., New York, NY 10013.

Phone:  (646) 998-3406

Neighborhood: Chinatown  

Website : http://lalitonyc.com/

Price: $$

Attire: Casual

Good for: breakfast all day, cheap lunch (all dishes under $15), bar scene

Overview 

This was a culinary experience where I walked away thinking, "I don't know what the fuck I just ate, but I loved it." The concept comes from the brain of former El Rey chef Gerardo Gonzalez. The Chinatown restaurant is decorated in a minimalistic retro fashion. The food is truly out of the ordinary, amongst a landscape of restaurants that all open with the same menu. There are Mexican, Mediterranean, and Latin influences contributing to complex flavors in casually plated food with lots of vegetable-heavy options. Confusing flavor combinations of roasted yam & yogurt, cumin & bacon, or potatoes & pickled pineapple have been finessed into dishes that will leave you pensive for days. I respect any place that has a "celery salad" consisting of a mountain of bacon and 3 pieces of celery. Hats off to Gonzales for shakin' shit up. 


 

Fonda

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GUACAMOLE - Freshly made guacamole served with house chips and pasilla de Oaxaca salsa.

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Asada Torta - Made on toasted Portuguese rolls with black bean spread, avocado and pickled jalapenos. Served with a side of salad

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Carnitas Tacos - Slow braised pork, onions, cilantro and avocado salsa.

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ENCHILADAS SUIZAS - Pulled chicken filled tortillas, creamy tomatillo sauce, baked with Chihuahua and Oaxaca cheeses.

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Address: 189 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011

Phone(917) 525-5252

Menu: fondarestaurant.com

Tijuana Picnic

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Guacamole & Chips

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Pancakes – bacon jam & grilled pineapple

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DROWNED EGGS - POACHED EGGS, TOMATO SALSA, BLACK BEANS AND CHINESE SAUsAGE

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MEXICAN AVOCADO TOAST - SEVEN GRAIN TOAST, AVOCADO, SAGE BUTTER, PORCINI MUSHROOM

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TIJUANA SUNRISE - 2 “SUNNY SIDE-UP” EGG TACOS, RAIZ SALAD, GUACOMOLE, REFRIED BEANS ADD SHREADED STEAK

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MUSHROOM AND GOAT CHEESE TACOS - POBLANO CHILI, CORN SHITAKE MUSHROOMS, GOAT CHEESE, CANDIED NUTS

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STEAK TACOS - SKIRT STEAK, JUKI SAUCE, SPICY AIOLI, PICKLED VEGETABLES, SHISO LEAF

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Steak & Eggs

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Address: 151 Essex St, New York, NY 10002

Phone(212) 219-2000

http://www.tijuana-picnic.com/

Black Ant

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Black Ant Guacamole – avocado, tomato, apples, cilantro, mango, pomegranate, black ant salt

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Ceviche Kamachi – cantaloupe-habanero gazpacho, fried cacahuachintle, ant powder

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Taco Chapulin – corn tortilla, grasshoppers, green pea puree

 

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Chapulin Croquettes – yucca-manchego croquettes, grasshoppers, chile, chapulin salsa

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Pulpo – grilled octopus, chayote salad, burnt chile mole

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Address: 60 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

Phone(212) 598-0300

www.theblackantnyc.com/

Empellon Brunch

BAKED EGG WHITE - Hoja Santa Smoked Salsa Ranchera

 

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CHILAQUILES VERDES - with Black Beans and a Sunny Side Egg

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CHURRO FRENCH TOAST - with Smoked Maple Syrup

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SCRAMBLED EGG FUNDIDO - with Potato, Chorizo, Salsa De Arbol

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Short Rib Pastrami with Pickled Cabbage and Mustard Seed Salsa

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BRAISED BACON, EGG AND CHEESE TACO

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Fish Tempura with Cabbage and Lime Mayonnaise

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Address: 230 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10014

Phone(212) 367-0999

www.empellon.com/taqueria/

La Esquina

I always just feel extra fucking cool when I’m at La Esquina. Whether you’re upstairs on the patio with all the beautiful people, or downstairs in the secret dining room, you know that you’re hip at least for the day. The upstairs taqueria features a casual café and relatively cheap prices. Those in the know may ask to dine downstairs. If granted entree, you will be lead Good Fellas style down the steps through the kitchen, and into a very chic and dark Mexican brasserie.

There is a massive menu of margaritas and other cocktails to keep you lubricated. To share, you can sample expertly charred Mexican street corn, tart tuna ceviche, and grilled octopus tostadas. For taquitos, try the slow-cooked pulled berkshire pork,  citrus-rubbed rotisserie chicken, or the braised lamb shoulder. It is a large menu meant for sharing with an elevated presentation. Here’s what we had:

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Guacamole & Chips

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Queso Fundido Queso Chihuahua, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Chile de Arbol, Plantain Chips

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Elotes Callejeros Grilled Mexican Street Corn

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Sope Masa Cakes, Refried Pinto Beans, Avocado, Nopalitos, Queso Fresco and Salsa Verde

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Pulpo Grilled Octopus, Mayonesa de Azafran

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Tinga de Pollo Slow-cooked Chicken, Avocado, Chipotle

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Camarones BLT Shrimp with Garlic Butter, Chipotle Piloncillo Bacon, Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa, Pico de Gallo and Shredded Lettuce

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Pollo Rostizado Citrus-rubbed Rotisserie Chicken, Cilantro, Salsa Verde 

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Pollo Rostizado Citrus-rubbed Rotisserie Chicken, Cilantro, Salsa Verde 

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Address: 114 Kenmare St, New York, NY 10012

Phone(646) 613-7100

Menu: esquinanyc.com

No Fun

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“I didn’t even know they had food!” This is the response I mostly receive when I tell people I recently dined at No Fun on Ludlow in the Lower East Side. Well folks, they indeed have food to pair with the booze at this neighborhood bar and it is certainly not your average bar food. 

I love a bar that tries to go the extra mile. Sure, you can get some cocktails at No Fun but that’s not unique in this city. You can melt into the eyes of their beautiful bartender (seriously, I love you if you’re reading this lets run away together) and also have some great Mexican food while you’re at it. The ingredients are fresh, everything is made in house, and the presentation is more beautiful than anyone would need it to be.

Their version of a torta comes on fresh bread and is stacked to the ceiling with juicy chicken, cheese, avocado and beans. The enchiladas are slightly spicy and swimming in a rich mixture of chipotle sauce and lime crema. The stars here are the tacos. There is an insane variety of chicken, fish, steak, and shrimp all with varied toppings. We ate our body weight in tacos and each one was unique and flavorful. Do yourself a favor and order some food next time you are boozing here. Don’t forget to sexually objectify the bartender. Here’s what we had:

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Chips, Salsa, Queso house made chips

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Nachos house made chips, spicy beef, crema, monterey jack, salsa raja, guacamole.

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Quesadilla oaxaca cheese, guacamole, lime crema, chicken

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Enchiladas Roja chicken, chipotle, lime crema, monterey jack, rice, black beans

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Torta chicken, black beans, avocado, tomato, oaxaca cheese

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Tacos chicken, steak, avocado, shrimp, tinga de polio, crispy fish or grilled fish

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Elote Corn cotija, cilantro, chili aioli

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Address: 161 Ludlow St, New York, NY 10002

Phone(212) 477-1616

nofun-nyc.com/

Mexicue

Photo: Mexicue.com

Photo: Mexicue.com

I don’t typically gravitate towards chain restaurants. There’s nothing wrong with them, I grew up eating at Fridays, Applebees & Chilis. As a spoiled New Yorker today it’s not my #1 pick. However, I think some value can be found in their consistency & corporate nature. That being said, I went to Mexicue with friends for brunch and was pleasantly surprised.

I guess Mexicue is more of a mini-chain. They have 3 locations in NYC . The décor is polished but casual; a great place to drink with friends and be loud in a large space. They have a sprawling cocktail list happily weighted in tequila. The menu is a generous offering of Mexican, BBQ, and Tex-Mex favorites. The ingredients feel fresh, high end, and the dishes made with them are executed well. They have the food you crave in this environment like burritos & tacos. Their queso dip & guacamole are both executed perfectly. The tuna ceviche nachos were topped with perfectly chilled tuna sauced in a creamy, spicy chipotle sauce. The brunch dishes were excellent, try the chiliquiles or the huevos rancheros. When this much tequila, meat, and avocado are involved you’d have to be a monster to not be happy. Here’s what we had:

Tuna Ceiche Nachos – avocado, fresh lime juice, cilantro, watermelon radish, creamy chipotle sauce

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Chilaquiles – eggs, cheese, avocado, cilantro

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French Toast w/ blueberry & powdered sugar

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Huevos Rancheros – avocado, corn, clack beans, cheese, egg, cilantro

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Tacos:

Smoked Chicken smoked chicken, creamy chipotle sauce, lettuce, pico de gallo, and cotija cheese.

Cajun Shrimp – slaw, sliced mango, salasa verde, jalapeno mayo, cilantro

Smoky Carnitas smoky carnitas, white cheddar, crispy tortilla strips, corn salsa, creamy chipotle sauce

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Address225 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010

Phone(646) 922-7289

www.Mexicue.com

Black Flamingo

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When I told people I was going to Black Flamingo the resounding response was “I didn’t know they served food.” Definitely not what you look to hear when en route to a restaurant. Granted, the place is known more for being a bar/nightclub. But if no one even knows you have food, what can one really expect for a meal there? What I found blew me away.

The menu at Black Flamingo is latin inspired vegan fare. Normally I stay away from restaurants that put me in a corner and tell me I can’t have something in particular. However the overall experience was exceptional. We were greeted by staff that was endlessly kind and excited about the restaurant. They guided us through the dishes wanting us to love everything. The food that poured out of the kitchen was incredibly innovative, beautifully presented, and assembled with tremendous thought. Along the way they kept us lubricated with heavily laced tequila cocktails (yay!).

I am baffled that no one seemed to know BF served food. So many times I go out to eat and think “that was fine, I didn’t mind it, food was good, I wouldn’t rush to go back.” I think this 10 times per week. But as I ate through the vegan menu each dish excited me more than the last. Their vegan ceviche was fresh and acidic, a beauty to behold, and the perfect firm texture. The jack fruit “crab cakes” had my mouth completely confused over whether I was eating crab or not. The texture is interchangeable. The watermelon and feta salad was the prefect refreshing bite and paired effortlessly with the tequila.

Now, the tacos. There are 7 different variations, each one more interesting than the last. Each with pops of color, acid, crunch and fat. You can choose from a huge variety of hearts of palm, mushrooms, tofu, mofongo and jackfruit. They look like little works of art. The rest of the small plates and tacos are sophisticated massively flavorful.This was the kind of food I am excited to write about and eager to return for. Here’s what we had:  

HOUSE-MADE CHIPS, GUACAMOLE, AND PICO DE GALLO

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ROYAL CEVICHE royal trumpet mushroom, cucumber, mango, jicama, baby yams marinated in blood orange habanero vinaigrette w/ plantain chips 

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WATERMELON AND HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD  local grape heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, feta*, jicama, and baby arugula in citrus mint vinaigrette  

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JACKFRUIT "CRAB CAKES" - chipolte aioli, mango raita, savoy cabbage chipolte aioli, mango raita, savoy cabbage

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FLAMINGO TACOS

THE AL PASTOR                      
ancho chile marinated jackfruit grilled with smoked mozzarella*, refried
black beans, seared pineapple, avocado, pico verde 

THE SAVORY SHROOM
crispy herb mushroom croquette, brazilian collard, fried leek,
truffle cashew crema, pecorino, almond parmesan

THE PALMS
grilled hearts of palm, guacamole, esquites, chipotle aioli, pickled watermelon radish,
fresh cilantro, micro arugula 

THE BIBIMBAP Gojujang popcorn tofu, pickled watermelon radish, carrot, daikon, micro arugula,
toasted black sesame seed, fried quail egg, scallion

THE JERK seared mofongo, roasted fingerling sweet potato, refried black beans, jerk
aioli, mango raita, crispy collard greens

THE JAM crispy potato latke, gruyere, guava jam, fried garlic, chive-dill crema,
red onion escabeche, cotija, scallion

THE “FISH” TACO beer battered king oyster mushroom, avocado salsa, lime cabbage slaw,
vegan crema, radish

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WILD MUSHROOM QUESADILLA grilled oyster mushroom, shiitake, cremini, gruyere, truffle cashew crema, cotija served with salsa verde and sour cream, pickled jalapeno, sour cream, cashew cheese, vegan sour cream, almond parmesan

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Empellon Taqueria & Empellon Cocina

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I am pretty much happy anywhere you stuff me full of tacos and tequila. If you don’t share the same disposition, we probably won’t get along. There is no shortage of tequila/taco palaces in NYC. My favorite of the bunch are the Empellon restaurants from owner & chef Alex Stupak.

Stupak’s story is very interesting. He was a pastry chef at Manhattan’s WD-50 and Chicago’s Alinea. He had never cooked Mexican food when he decided to open his restaurants. He opened Empellon Taqueria in 2011, Cocina in 2012 , and Al Pastor in 2014.  Since then he has enjoyed great success including being named Food & Wine’s best new chef & being nominated for James Beard awards.

Taqueria in the West Village and Cocina in the East Village are fairly similar to me as far as the concept. Both are contemporary and modern. The vibe is hip and loud with tons of young people. Dark wood, dim lighting, good music.  At Taqueria there are several dining rooms and a large bar for dining. You will see some of the most colorful, exciting paintings covering the walls of the spaces. In the Cocina location you will find a long space, open in the front (weather permitting), and a semi open kitchen. The space is great for large groups or a date. 

 At both locations Stupak provides an elevated Mexican dining experience. Dishes are beautifully presented. You will find reinvented versions of the Mexican food you love. The tacos come with high(er) end ingratiates like softshell crab. lobster, and tempura fish on fresh flour tortillas. They have a phenomenal guacamole at both locations, coming with a staggering 7 house made salsas ranging in heat. You can round out your meal with any number of small, flavor packed starters & snacks. Don’t forget the margaritas. Lots of margaritas. Here’s what we had: 

EMPELLON TAQUERIA: 

Guacamole With 7 Salsas - smoked cashew, arbol

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Beets with Hibiscus and Brown Butter Crema

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Octopus with Parsnip, Pumpkin Seeds, and Salsa Papanteca

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Lobster with Sweet Corn and Epazote

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Fish Tempura with Cabbage and Lime Mayonnaise

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Chicken with Crema and Salsa Verde

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EMPELLON COCINA

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GUACAMOLE with 7 salsas

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SPANISH RED PRAWNS with chintestle mayonnaise

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SQUID with black mole, nugget potatoes and chorizo mayonnaise

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CHICKEN with celery, pipian and pepitas

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OXTAIL with hot sauce and maggi vegetables

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SOFTSHELL CRAB

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Empellon Cocina

Address: 105 1st Avenue, New York, NY 10003

Phone:(212) 780-0999

Empellon Taqueria

Address: 230 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10014

Phone:(212) 367-0999

www.empellon.com

Tacombi

I am a long time fan of Tacombi. Quite frankly, I am a fan of anywhere that pumps me full of tequila and tacos. This tequila & taco palace, however, is special. They started their journey in Mexico, opening two spaces in Playa del Carmen. You may have spent spring break there; I certainly did. After perfecting their craft in Mexico, they landed in NYC in 2010 for their first location in Nolita. They have since grown to 3 locations in Manhattan and one in Montauk. My favorite of the 4 is on Bleeker Street (above) because it is full of natural sunlight and beautiful colors. They recently opened an area in the front serving very worth while to-go ceviche. 

I generally feel that there's a ceiling to how good tacos can be. Don't get me wrong; I love them, they are one of my favorite food groups. But a lot of these braised meat/onion/cilantro combinations are fairly interchangeable no matter where you go. Tacombi does things a little differently to set themselves apart from the pack. They make everything from scratch with sustainably sourced ingredients, including their corn and flour tortillas which are rolled daily. Their fish tacos are my favorite in the city. They are beer battered, super fresh, and topped with a poblano mayo. The versions with slow roasted suckling pig or chargrilled shrimp are absolutely not to be missed. They also have excellent seasonal vegetarian options. 

Let's talk about the non-taco side of the menu. The ceviche is exceptional. Tacombi makes theirs with fresh local fluke in lime juice with cucumber pico de gallo and creamy avocado. There is great acid from the onion and it's slightly spicy which I love. The made-to-order guacamole is fantastic and the housemade chips are thick and crispy for maximum scoopability. They introduced me to corn esquites which is epazote, cotija cheese, chipotle mayo. It might as well be crack, I'd happily mainline this stuff. Here's what we had:

Guacamole - freshly made and served with home-made totopos

Ceviche - Fresh local fluke in lime juice with cucumber pico de gallo

Crispy Fish Tacos - Beer battered alaskan cod con home-made poblano mayo

Every taco on the menu...

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Tacombi, 3 locations in NYC

Address: 255 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

Address: 30 W 24th St, New York, NY 10010

267 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10012

http://tacombi.com/

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Tortaria

Photo: New World Review

Photo: New World Review

Located just south of the chaos of Union Square, Tortaria is nestled amongst a plethora bars & restaurants built for the NYU kids. I had actually been to Tortaria several times before. I have spent several late nights, way less than sober, eating their tacos at 1am. Much like Artichoke Pizza & Crif Dogs, it's one of drunk Rayna's favorite foods. I decided to go back and test if sober me would still love the restaurant. 

You can choose your adventure here- grab n go from their wide selection of items, or sit inside the space which is built to mimic a roadside bodega in Mexico City. The walls are stacked high with Mexican pantry staples, and the floor is lined with brightly colored mosaic tiles. The bar is stocked with small batch tequila and Mexican beers on tap. Have a few margaritas in the space surrounded by bright orange & turquoise colors when suddenly you forget that it's actually 30 degrees and snowing outside.

The food is quick & cheap – my favorite kind of thrills. As the name suggests, the menu has every kind of glorious Mexican sandwich, known as a torta, to suite your fancy.  Pulled pork, braised short ribs, crispy eggplant, and panko crusted chicken are among the bunch. Not feeling a sandwich? They have a laundry list of taquitos, apps, sides, and made-to-order guacamole. I did my best to ploy through everything. The plantains were sweet and sticky, and I drowned them in the spicy chipotle mayo. I inhaled the French fries dusted with a smokey lime-pepper seasoning as though I’d never see another french fry again. I capped off my Mexican binge-fest with sweet and crunchy churros dipped in chocolate. Overall, sober me loves this place as much as drunk me. Here’s what we had: 

Tortas: Milanesa de Pollo panko-crusted chicken cutlet cooked until golden brown and served with spicy black beans, melted Oaxaca cheese, avocado, pickled red onion and jalapeño, chipotle mayo and cilantro sprigs Pulled Pork slow-roasted and served with spicy pinto/chorizo beans, melted Chihuahua cheese, avocado, fresh Papalo leaves, roasted chipotle peppers and pickled red onion Braised Short Ribs braised steak short ribs cooked until tender and served with spicy black beans, avocado, pickled red onion and jalapeños with fresh cilantro Crispy Eggplant panko-crusted fried eggplant cutlets, Chihuahua cheese, avocado, fresh Piloncillo tomatoes, pickled jalapeño, fresh cilantro and our chipotle BBQ Sauce

Corn Esquites- Mexican char-grilled corn on the cob slathered with Queso Fresco, chipotle mayo and finished with chili powder and a squeeze of fresh lime

Mahi Lime Tacos Grilled or crispy topped with a jicama corn relish, romaine lettuce and a lemon/lime jalapeño romoulade in flour tortillas  Carne Asada grilled skirt steak topped with frizzled Onion strings, fresh cilantro and tomatillo salsa  Pollo Asado con Chicharrones grilled chicken breast topped with chicken chicharrones, fresh cilantro and tomatillo salsa  Al Pastor Pork shoulder marinated in a sweet and sour chile pineapple salsa and cooked on the flat grill 

Tortaria

Address: 94 University Pl, New York, NY 10003

Phone:(212) 776-1830

tortaria-nyc.com