We are pretty tough on Mexican food in this city. To us, putting a couple of fancy tacos on a menu and charging twenty bucks doesn’t make for a good Mexican meal. And unfortunately, we don’t do the dirt cheap Mexican food here all that well either. New York just won’t ever win playing with a West Coast offense. We’re not built that way. Instead, we need to rely on the talent of our world class chefs. There’s no reason why Mexican food shouldn’t measure up to the rest of NYC dining. We’ve been desperate for something unique, something special and most importantly, something delicious. How is it possible its taken this long for someone to kill it with Mexican flavors? My friends, as one of my favorite bands once sang, there is hope for us.
This glimmer of hope we speak of is Empellon Cocina. It’s located on what is fast becoming one of our favorite restaurant strips, sandwiched between Upstate Beer & Oyster Bar and Maharlika on First Avenue. The first time around, we were a little hard on former wd~50 pastry chef Alex Stupak’s foray into gourmet Mexican food, Empellon, this restaurant’s predecessor in the West Village. More fancy tacos. Yay. However, things have changed. Not only is Empellon Cocina an upgrade, it’s taken Mexican food to new levels that New York City has never seen before. Finally, we have ourselves a phenomenal Mexican restaurant. Thank you, Mr. Stupak.
There’s a lot to love at Empellon Cocina. This isn’t the traditional Mexican cuisine that you’re used to, this is an exciting display of Mexican flavors that will blow you away. The food is adventurous yet approachable, and dishes like the roasted carrots with mole poblano, and the gordita with smoked plantain, chorizo and egg yolk are some of the better things we’ve tasted in recent memory. On top of that, the service is flawless, and the soundtrack is great. We’ll happily listen to Black Keys and Modest Mouse album cuts all night long. The design and layout of the restaurant is also really cool, with a big circular bar that houses all kinds of tequila and mezcal, and some crazy artwork on the walls to keep things interesting and a little weird. It’s fun, it’s loud and it’s going into our heavy rotation immediately. You should get it into yours too.
Guacamole with Pistachios and Masa Crisps
This is easily the most creative, most delicious, and most memorable chips and guac we’ve had in this city. The “Masa Crisps” (chips) taste amazingly fresh, and have a subtle sweetness to them. The guacamole is a bit different than you’re used to, almost like a chunky avocado salad with pistachios, corn, onions, peppers, and cilantro in the mix.
Normally we wouldn’t give salsa it’s own spot on the Food Rundown, but since pretty much every salsa we had here was incredible, it earned it’s own space. The smoked cashew salsa particularly memorable – it’s creamy, sweet, and smoky. Definitely order that one.
Roasted Carrots with Mole Poblano
Carrots are so hot right now. They’re popping up on menus all across town. These come served with a mole poblano paste, yogurt, and watercress, and they are 100% awesome.
Gordita with Smoked Plaintain, Chorizo and Egg Yolk
Gorditas (corncakes stuffed with things) sometimes have the problem of being a little too dry. Adding a runny egg yolk combats that problem. Put the gooey gordita atop a bed of smoked plaintain and chorizo and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success. Good lord is this dish good.
Apparently they know how to make a tamal in the Yucatan. This had such a soft, sweet, fine texture it almost tasted like panna cotta. It also made us want to go on vacation.
Tongue Sopes with Refried Beans and Salsa de Arbol
Two bite wonders. Corn masa, beef tongue, hot sauce. These need be on your table.
Cod with Surryano Ham and Chilaquiles Verdes
One of our favorite things on the menu here. A personal pan of seared cod with ham and fried tortillas slathered in green salsa. The flavors are exotic, exciting, and addicting. We couldn’t eat this fast enough.
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