Right off of Spring and Lafayette, in the midst of Nolita, lies Cleveland Street, a street I had never noticed until now. Nineteen Cleveland Street is the home of Mexican Radio – the residence of the best Mexican food my buds have ever tasted. Always on the lookout for a good Mexican place, I was surprised that I had never heard of this one, which has been around for nine years. I went on a Sunday, which is a quiet night there; Fridays and Saturdays are always packed and lively, according to the manager.
Mexican Radio does not need people to make it feel animated, however. As soon as you walk in, soft candlelight greets you warmly, reflecting dark melon walls and colorful papel picado (colorful cut-out flags usually associated with the Day of the Dead) overhead. Traditional Mexican décor of altar candles and rosaries, mixed with brightly hand-painted designs, makes you feel as if you are inside a Mexican shrine. A medley of Latin tunes, from Manu Chao to Eva Ayllón play in the background. Before you know it, the food arrives.
Unlike the song "Mexican Radio" by ‘80’s pop band Wall of Voodoo, this Mexican Radio does not make you wish you were "in Tijuana eating barbecued iguana." I felt extremely content where I was that very minute, savoring my chicken chimichanga.
The moment I took my first bite, I took a double take. The spice was just right, and the guacamole, crema and pico de gallo that topped it were perfect. Even though this dish is fried, it was amazingly not greasy. It was served with a side of tangy spiced rice and beans (named Shecky’s Best Funky Frijoles of 2005).
Mexican Radio’s margaritas won the Best Margarita in NYC award in 2001, but they still hold the title, in my opinion. What makes them so out of this world is that they are all made with fresh lime juice–no chemicals or mixes here! You can definitely taste the difference.
I have to go back to try the Rajas en Cerveza – a bubbling Mexican fondue, mixed with Dos XX, onions and strips of poblano peppers, as well as their Nachos made with crema and guajillo pepper sauce, which have also been named the best in NYC. They offer the choice of soft or crispy tacos as well.
Entrees (also catering to vegetarians and vegans) range from $11.95 – 18.95 and margaritas are around $9 – with a large selection of tequilas for the tequila connoisseur.
The only downfall is that they don’t serve complimentary chips and salsa (one of my favorite aspects of the Mexican dining experience), but the atmosphere and flawless food more than compensate for that. You will not be disappointed.
For more information, visit www.mexicanrad.com.