It’s easy to walk out disappointed by a slick, trendy new restaurant. Especially if the restaurant’s in a stacked neighborhood, serving food you can get anywhere else, and charging a not-insignificant amount for it. So you finally got a table at that new place in the West Village after waiting two hours for your pasta, and it ended up being mediocre? Yeah, forget disappointed. You might be mad.
It’s a lot harder to walk out a mom and pop joint feeling that way. Especially when that place is making something that’s hard to find in NYC: authentic Mexican food. El Atoradero is the kind of place you root for before you even try the food.
It’s not just the prospect of awesome food that makes you excited about El Atoradero - it’s the origin story. The chef made a name for her cooking out of her South Bronx bodega (the original El Atoradero), where she served legendary carnitas. Eventually, she opened a full-on restaurant next door serving a broader menu of homestyle Pueblan Mexican specialties, but after two years of business and critical success, her landlord essentially kicked her out with an insane hike in rent. Thanks to some luck and hard work, El Atoradero reopened in Prospect Heights in late 2015.
It would be hard not to have the highest hopes for El Atoradero's first foray into Brooklyn. Everything about this restaurant sounds like the makings of the ultimate comeback story. But the current state of El Atoradero feels more like a fizzle-out.
While there are a couple highlights food-wise, there are more misses, and a lot of mediocre stuff in the middle. The best thing we've eaten is the cemita: a Mexican sandwich with a perfect bread to meat to toppings ratio (order it with the super-tender carne asada). The chicken tinga taco is also excellent. But sadly, the items we had heard most about from the original incarnation of El Atoradero were actually the most disappointing: the mole enchiladas and albondigas (egg-stuffed meatballs) both lacked any real flavor, and the carnitas (El Atoradero Bronx’s calling card) were all gristle and fat.
Unfortunately, the other elements of the restaurant don’t make up for the disappointments in the food. Though the highly casual environment and very reasonable prices might make you think this is could be a convenient, easy addition to the neighborhood, the service is pretty slow, especially given how long you will be waiting for your food. The kitchen is tiny, and while we appreciate that you can see the chef and cooks hard at work, El Atoradero is probably going to have to figure out how to get food on the table (or keep customers better distracted with alcohol) in less than 30 minutes if they’re going to be able to survive.
El Atoradero's intention - to bring authentic Mexican food to New York - is clearly in the right place. The execution, however, is disappointing. New York City needs more Mexican food heroes - but while we’re waiting for El Atoradero to rise to the occasion, we’ll be getting our mole and carnitas fix elsewhere.
Very fresh guacamole, but without much flavor or zing at all. The homemade chips, however, are great - super crunchy, and the blue corn makes them feel ever so slightly more wholesome.
Fried tortillas stuffed with melted cheese and a bit of guacamole for dipping. These are a decent enough snack, but you won’t miss them if they’re not on your table.
Chicken is usually the least exciting taco offering - not in El Atoradero's case. This is one of our favorite things here. The pulled chicken - cooked in an excellent spicy-smoky-sweet sauce - is super tender, and the homemade blue tortilla is the perfect vehicle for it.
Serviceable, but not a lot of flavor. This is a common theme at El Atoradero.
We were excited to try El Atoradero's famous carnitas, which come in the form of cubes of pork (rather than the shredded version that's more common). But instead of juicy pork belly, this was a mixture of gristle and fat, without any real meat to be found.
We wouldn’t have guessed that the best thing on the menu would be a sandwich. Now you know. Get it with carne asada.
A traditional Poblano dish of meatballs stuffed with eggs in a chipotle sauce. These were nice and tender, but the sauce doesn’t pack a lot of punch. The rice and black beans, though, are very good. Then again, it’s not a great sign when the rice and beans are what stand out.
One thing El Atoradero has a good handle on is presentation. This is a beautiful plate of rich-looking mole enchiladas. We just wish they tasted as good as they looked.
Two crispy tortillas topped with fried eggs and salsa. We’re always on the hunt for good huevos rancheros, and these fit the bill – they’re simple, but executed very well. The refried beans served with main dishes at brunch are also insanely good. It’s these little flickers of success that make us think El Atoradero might be able to turn things around.
An egg scramble packed with chorizo and potato. Very filling, but otherwise not something we’d order again.