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Rayuela

Rayuela is one of the best Latin fusion restaurants we’ve ever tried, hands-down. (What does hands-down mean anyway? We don’t know, but the food at Rayuela is off the gancho. And we should know—between the two of us, we’ve spent 10-plus years working in Latino restaurants muy fancis. Trust us, Rayuela makes most of those other places look like McDonald’s.)

What the name means: For you monolinguals, it’s “hopscotch”. Why? For one, the novel Rayuela by Argentinean Julio Cortázar is one of co-owner Hector Sanz’ favorite books. Besides that, it’s a reference to the way the cuisine literally hopscotches all over Latinoamérica. For example, in one dish we tried, “Argentine filet mignon,” came topped with Chilean crabmeat chimichurri, served over Peruvian potatoes with a Spanish cheese mixed into a potato puree. Yes, it seems forced and schizophrenic but it works.

The concept: Creative, delicious combinations of an incredibly diverse array of Latin ingredients. No matter how many different Latino cuisines you’ve tried, there will be something here you’ve never heard of, or a wild combination of different things, and that’s what makes it so fresh and tasty.

The look: The hopscotch motif repeats in the décor, from the rearrangeable square- and rectangle-shaped banquettes upstairs (think legos furniture for adults), to the gauze panels separating semi-private tables across from the ceviche bar, to the light-filled rectangles that line the walls.

What to eat : Ceviche—they’ve got 11 different kinds! We fell in love with the Lobster Revolution—lobster meat marinated in citrus juices, served with a coconut water-lemongrass-sage-ginger infusion along with rum-marinated pineapple, topped with Uruguayan caviar. Yeah, that’s a pretentious grocery list in just one dish, but it’s fantastic. Besides that, we were big fans of the aforementioned Churrasco con cangrejo chimichurri.

Those soon-to-be-infamous “edible cocktails”: The haute-couture version of jello shots, these included a ridiculously tasty chocolate-dipped strawberry filled with tequila-infused chocolate cream; avocado foam spiked with tequila; and pisco-quince gel. Just be careful with these: they were so good, we ate them all up and both wound up borrachitos. (It might have also been the other gazillion drinks we sampled, though. We don’t mind suffering crudos for the sake of our readers!)

What not to eat: Maybe the duck was a little fatty for our taste, and the bed of foie gras was spongy in a bad way. But maybe we’re just too nacos to know foie gras? Also it’s probably not good to eat quite so many of the edible shot things.

What to drink: The cocktails here are dreamed up by Junior Merino, who is to drink mixing what Timbaland used to be to hip hop, i.e. everything he touches turns to gold…or um, at least, a really excellent drink (he also hooked up Café Frida and Ronda with his recetas, among other spots.) Anyways, enough nalga-kissing. To the point: Our favorite was an Estilo Libre Mezcal–a blend of mezcal, jicama juice, cointreau and ginger syrup. We also liked the Estilo Libre Sherry drink for being not too sweet. And the wines we tried, a smooth Finca Sandoval Manchuela and a zingy Txomin Etxaniz Getaria, were both excellent.

What not to drink: We suspect it might have been the Piña Partida that got us drunk; its cucumber-pineapple-agave-tequila combo was like a welterweight’s left hook catching us on our weak chin.

Who to take there on a date:

  • Architecture nerds—you can impress them by pointing out the hidden hopscotch theme in the design.
  • Someone you want to get drunk—the drinks are so tasty they won’t stop at one.
  • Anyone you want to impress—even the most jaded New York food snob will be wowed by tuna, watermelon, anise and calamari ceviche.

Don’t forget to take a joint trip to the coed bathroom on your way out—it’s strangely sexy and kind of private. If you start kissing on the banquette here, you’ll probably end up naked at home a short time later.

¿Es caro? Yes. But you know, even we need a break from tacos sometimes, and the splurge here is totally worth it. Expect to pay about $11 for drinks, $15 for ceviche, and $30 for entrees.

Where do I find this epicurian Valhalla?

165 Allen Street between Stanton and Rivington. Phone number: 212 253 8840. If you want to make yourself drool, you can also check out their menu at rayuelanyc.com