For a city with such a diverse, world-class restaurant scene, NYC has always had a reputation for sucky Mexican food. West Coasters love to gloat about their superior tacos and burritos, pointing out that most of NYC’s Mexican population is from Puebla, which isn’t known for its taco culture. I get tired of hearing about our gloppy sour cream and dry-ass tortillas, but I get it. Luckily, these complaints are losing steam by the minute, because unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you’ve probably noticed that NYC is in the midst of a full-on Mexican cuisine revolution. It seems like every week a new Mexican restaurant is putting down roots in the concrete.
From high-end culinary interpretations to authentic homages to regional street food and everything in between — the masa is getting nixtamalized, homemade salsa start-ups are gaining a foothold, and DF-style mezcalerias are serving up their smoky elixirs. Here are five new eateries to check out this fall:
Perhaps the biggest sign of NYC’s Mexican food moment is the arrival of hailed chef Enrique Olvera. His DF flagship Pujol has been endlessly celebrated in foodie circles as “a simultaneously trailblazing and unfussy” approach to food. Opening any day now, his first New York venture will be in Flatiron (not far from new Mexican food emporium Cafe el Presidente), in a space that was a strip club in a former life. According to interviews, Cosme will be serving up a few surprise dishes, including a mushroom-and-potato barbacoa, a “burrata and weeds” dish, and a mezcal-spiked, cactus-studded rendition of Manhattan clam chowder. Olvera will probably also serve guacamole to appease gringo tastebuds, on the advice of Empellón’s Alex Stupak, who was quoted telling the NY Times “For better or worse, at a Mexican restaurant in the United States, people order guacamole and a margarita before they even look at the menu.” Despite all the hype, patrons can expect reasonable prices, with most dishes priced under $20. And word on the street is Cosme will have a Celorio, the most state of the art tortilla machine, because, as he recently told Grub Street “Without a good tortilla, you can’t have a good restaurant. It’s everything.”
Empellón Al Pastor
After the wild success of his first two Empellón restaurants (Empellón Cocina and Empellón Taqueria respectively), chef Alex Stupak is showing no signs of slowing down. By now, you’ve probably heard the story: a gringo pastry chef who once only cared about molecular gastronomy, Stupak fell in love with a Mexican-American woman, and under her tutelage began to eat, cook, and eventually grow totally obsessed with Mexican cuisine. His restaurants have been lauded by the food establishment, and are often credited with getting NYC excited about a new approach to Mexican cuisine. I must confess, I have some mixed feelings about whether a gringo from Massachusetts with less than five years of Mexican cooking under his belt can really be the city’s Mexi Food Savior (and my most recent trip to Empellón Cocina was pretty underwhelming). Still, I’m curious to see how he’ll fare with a focus on the Al Pastor, which is one of the trickiest tacos to get right, according to DF devotees of El Tizoncito. Reportedly, he has invested in a custom grinder and will be nixtamalizing and grinding corn for his own housemade tortillas.
132 St. Marks Pl., at Ave. A.
With Tacuba, Julian Medina completes his triumvirate of Mexican eateries (he’s also the owner of Toloache and Yerba Buena). His Astoria cantina is decorated in a Dia de Muertos vibe, complete with calavera sculptures hanging from the ceiling. Eater reports that “the menu lists nine taco options, all on handmade tortillas, including one with zucchini, corn, crispy hibiscus flowers, and pickled jalapeños, another with lobster, and a Oaxacan grasshopper taco for the more adventurous. Rounding out the menu are nachos, elote, and several ceviches. The drink menu is heavy on the margaritas, tequilas, and mezcals.” Check out the full menu here.
35-01 36th Street, Astoria
Helmed by our favorite Chopped (and tatted) judge Aarón Sánchez, Alegre will pay tribute, like so many restaurants do, to mami’s home cooking. Except in this case, mami happens to be renowned Mexican chef Zarela Martinez. That’s all we know so far, and though we’ve got our eyes peeled for an opening date no word just yet. But no matter — he had us at Zarela-inspired eats.
146 Orchard St., nr. Rivington St.
This fusion restaurant comes to us from the team behind Indochine/Acme. Chef Alex Lopez has designed a menu that mixes the palates of Mexico and Southeast Asia, with items like “galangal-marinated-chicken tacos” and “roasted pork neck with Thai-spiced chimichurri.” Co-owner Jean-Marc Houmard explains: “There will be empanadas, tacos, tamales, and the fillings and sauces will have Asian flavors.” There is no firm opening date yet, though it’s projected for sometime this month.
151 Essex St., Lower East Side