photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Empellon has three locations, two of which are downtown. Taqueria is good for an easy date night in the West Village, and Al Pastor is a little spot on St. Mark’s where you can eat a cheeseburger taco at 1am. Both are pretty casual, and you wouldn’t think twice about wearing t-shirt to either of them. The new location in Midtown, on the other hand, is big, flashy, and feels sort of like the first studio picture from an indie director who finally got tired of his sh*tty craft services table.
Compared to the other Empellóns, this place is a blockbuster. Although in this particular film, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are played by sea urchin roe and steak tartare. And, like most summer blockbusters, Empellón Midtown is a little excessive and kind of disappointing, and it might come in handy if you have a few people to entertain.
Here, you’ll find octopus tacos, uni nachos, and wagyu fajitas. We don’t have a problem with any of these things, but, at Empellón, none of them are quite as good as you hope they’ll be. They aren’t bad - but if you’re the one paying the check, you might lie awake at night and wonder what else you could have done with your money. Take, for example, the fajitas. They’re $125, and they come with about four domino-sized pieces of beef.
Although, to be fair, nothing else costs close to $125, and most other dishes are at least borderline worth-it. Feel free to try the crab and uni nachos. The concept is a little Flavortown-esque - but they’re fun to eat, and there’s plenty of crab and uni. The tacos are also a reliable order, especially the ones that overlap with the menu at Taqueria.
Would we rather have the tacos from Los Tacos No. 1? Of course. But you can’t bring a client or a date to a place like that. You can, however, bring them here. Empellón has two floors, an open kitchen, and a giant shelf of all-white sculptures that look like they were looted from a ceramics class before glazing day. It’s a great-looking space, and it works for anything from a team outing to your mother’s tequila-themed 50th birthday. The service is also top-notch, and the restaurant is lively without being too loud.
So if you need a last-minute place to impress a group of clients, out-of-towners, or a date who cares more about your body language than the mouthfeel of their queso - this place is a viable option. Although if you aren’t stuck in Midtown, you might as well just go to Taqueria. It doesn’t have the same production values, but it’s less gimmicky, more intimate, and makes this Midtown outpost feel like a Spider-Man reboot from a young director who should be doing more interesting things.
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Guacamole With Seven Salsas
No matter what, start your meal with this. The guacamole is great, but you’ll get the most mileage out of the salsas. They’re made in-house, and you can put them on everything that you order.
Crab Nachos W/ Sea Urchin Queso
These both look and taste like fancy pub food, but - until fancy pubs start serving them - you can only get them here. If you like uni, go for it.
Chopped Cabbage Salad
If you need some greens, this salad is an acceptable option. We like the way it looks, and the heavily-dressed cabbage doesn’t taste especially healthy (which we consider a plus).
Queso Fundido With Steak Tartare
In theory, this sounds amazing. In reality, however, the steak tartare gets a little lost in all the queso. It definitely isn’t bad - it just isn’t as good as it sounds.
These probably won’t upset you, but each one feels less like a taco and more like a small plate that just happens to be in a tortilla.
Spit-Roasted Beef Tacos
Feel free to order these relatively unexciting beef tacos. Paired with some margaritas, they make a pretty decent dinner.
Lamb Sweetbreads Tacos With Lamb Barbacoa
The lamb sweetbreads tacos would be much better without the lamb sweetbreads. In other words, they’re bad.
Unless your boss gave you a company card and told you to offend some clients with a ostentatious display of spending power, you should absolutely skip these fajitas. Your $125 would be much better spent at a steakhouse.
Corn Ice Cream Tacos
If you get a desert, this is what you want. Whatever yellow powder they put on top of these should be sprinkled on everything always.
You’ll want to take a picture of this, and we don’t blame you. It’s some kind of lime sorbet that’s been shaped like an avocado. We enjoyed it, but we also wondered what else they could have done in the time that it took to make this thing look like an avocado.
This dessert comes with seven bite-sized things that somehow incorporate strawberry. It’s a cool concept, and the presentation looks great - unfortunately, most of the bite-sized things aren’t good.