Sometimes it's snow in April. Sometimes it's a person who sticks their armpit in your face on the subway. Either way, at some point, New York will make you question your will to keep going. You will think there must be somewhere a little better? You never thought you'd say it, but... LA? And before you know it, you're deep down a rabbit hole of real estate listings for a place in Venice, and wondering about exactly what one does with a "lawn."
Wisely, a whole crop of New York restaurants have finally caught on. From casual hangs like Dimes to blockbusters like Upland, it definitely feels like quite a few people thought up restaurant concepts while on an LAX-JFK flight that didn't have Wifi. And they're on to something - the familiar NYC trend of "interesting" but austere Nordic places is cool, but they make you feel like you should be wearing a turtleneck. El Rey makes you feel like you should be wearing white overalls. Because people here probably are wearing white overalls.
El Rey is a little cafe in the heart of the Lower East Side, and it cranks out some pretty interesting food with West Coast heart. It's the kind of "almost healthy" stuff we find ourselves wanting to eat a lot of the time, but spiced up and spiffed up a bit. Whether that's deconstructing a falafel to turn it into a salad, or dumping in garlic where you didn't expect it, the food here is creative and flavorful. The space is tiny, and is somewhere in between a trendy coffee shop and and a restaurant.
By day, it's an order at the counter and hang out situation, with salads and light plates, many of which you can add an avocado to. (Of course.) The sun shines in, and in true California style, people hang out on the benches with coffee outside, like they don't have jobs. Do they? We'll never know.
At night, the place gets a little more serious: servers take your order, and more complicated (or at least, cooked) dishes with chorizo and octopus make up the menu. This is where things really get interesting. But to be clear, it still feels like you're eating in a coffee shop. Relax, New Yorker. You'll be fine.
A spin on avocado toast where instead of chili and lemon, you get pickled onions and Middle Eastern spices. You can get the avocado as a solo side, on top of a pita, or with an egg on top.
Cauliflower, cabbage, and crispy chickpeas are all shredded and mixed up with a garlic sauce and made into a salad that sits on top of a pita, rather than inside. It's "not a falafel," but sort of tastes like the fancy version of one.
Don't fall victim to ordering the kale salad during lunch - this one is the same, but with stuff (farro and shaved radishes, mostly) actually in it. Top it with a pickled pink egg and, naturally, avocado.
Now entering the dinner portion of the menu. This is really a burrata dish, with some onions and a light mole sauce for dipping.
Delicate little pieces of chorizo come in an orange zest-infused oil with hazelnut and lots of roasted garlic. It's funky and delicious, and you definitely want it as part of your dinner order.
Little bits of octopus on top of a "black bean puree" that El Rey's super friendly chef Gerardo will inform you is actually white bean puree with squid ink. Puree-ception. Get it.