Back when we first reviewed Empellon Cocina in 2012, it was a big moment for Mexican food in NYC, and the tipping point a new wave of south of the border activity. The whole expensive taco thing was running rampant then, and this new era of inexpensive, more “authentic” tacos hadn’t yet started. So, when Cocina opened – an upscale, understated mecca of Mexican ingredients sans tortillas – we, along with everybody else, were psyched. No one had ever delivered the mail when it came to fancy Mexican, but a non-Mexican, former pastry chef named Alex Stupak did exactly that. We found the food at the original iteration of Cocina to be exotic, exciting, and tasty. It has sat atop our Mexican rankings for a long time, and rightfully so. Cocina continues to hum right along, and remains an excellent restaurant. The menu has changed a lot since then, but the good news is that the quality remains same.
These days, Cocina isn’t just slinging massacred octopus and art exhibit worthy fluke tartare, they’ve succumbed to the pressures of society, meaning they’re selling expensive tacos just like everybody else. They may be creative (cheeseburger tacos!) and delicious (sweet corn!), but this restaurant isn’t necessarily as distinguished as it used to be. That being said, the food is still excellent and there are very few other restaurants in NYC making Mexican food this exciting.
Guacamole with Pistachios and Masa Crisps
One of the most creative, most delicious, and most memorable chips and guac situations 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 (salsa deserves it’s own damn website), but since pretty every salsa here is incredible, it earned it’s own space. The smoked cashew salsa particularly memorable – it’s creamy, sweet, smoky and addicting.
A beautiful plate of fresh white fish, decorated with pickled peaches, tomato water, and the key ingredient that gives the fish a little extra kick – mole poblano oil.
One of the dishes that’s been on the menu since the beginning, the lamb tartare is amazing. It’s broken down into a thin, silky smooth consistency with a subtly peppery flavor, without tasting too meaty. We always consider ordering two of these.
Toasted Vermicelli Noodles
A crispy, crunchy, creamy bowl of noodles that comes with baby zucchini and zucchini blossom. There’s probably a whole stick of butter in here, and it’s glorious.
A Cocina classic. Their squid is second to none. It’s a mess of abstract art and tentacles, which are charred and perfectly chewy. The mole on the plate is the standout, as always.
There is a whole “With Tortillas” section of the menu which needs to be paid attention to, especially if you are with a big group. The carnitas is one of our favorites, as you can either eat it straight up, or make yourself a taco. Other ones to consider: Lamb Belly Barbacoa, Chorizo Stuffed Chicken and the One Pound Lobster with Melted Tetilla Cheese, if you’re really looking to get after it.
If you must…they definitely won’t disappoint. Don’t sleep on the Sweet Corn Esquites – those are our favorites.
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