NYCReview

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Three ceviches on a table at Ensenada.
8.4

Ensenada

Mexican

Williamsburg

$$$$Perfect For:Drinking Good CocktailsHappy Hour
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You know those cartoon diagrams of your brain—the ones that show how much space each thing is taking up? Ours has three main sections: family, friends and lovers, and the pineapple butter at Ensenada. At least once a day, our thoughts become butter-based. First, we remember this condiment exists, then we wonder if we might be able to recreate it, and eventually, we just settle on returning to the place that does it best.

Ensenada works for a lot of different situations that call for a lot of different seafood. And, for a Mexican spot in Williamsburg with excellent margaritas and hot-date-worthy raw fish, it’s surprisingly under-the-radar. Most nights, you can easily walk in without a reservation, and you won’t see anyone using a ring light when you do.

Ensenada image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Instead, you might see a couple feeding each other ceviche in the blue corner booth, perfectly coexisting with a big family, who are celebrating a birthday with a table-full of buttery tuna tostada. Or you might encounter someone who’s just discovered Ensenada’s Happy Hour, talking about how it’s been awhile since they’ve been this tipsy on a Tuesday, and hey, isn’t the cilantro here sort of delicate and beautiful? 

Those who frequent the sweaty, subterranean club Black Flamingo downstairs (from the same team) may have fuzzy memories of drinking an expertly made margarita at Ensenada’s bar. That bar is laden with a lifetime supply of agave spirits, and it’s the place to be before 7pm on a weeknight, with a plate of pescaditos fritos from the Happy Hour menu. Pair the crunchy little fish with a vermouth and soda, while admiring the sea creatures doodled—possibly by a talented 5th grader—on the blue-trimmed white walls.

Ensenada image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

A spread of dishes on a table at Ensenada

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

bar area at Ensenada

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Ensenada image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Ensenada image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Ensenada image
A spread of dishes on a table at Ensenada
bar area at Ensenada
Ensenada image
Ensenada image

For a bigger, mezcal-drenched weekend meal, get a table with a few more people and make the pescado del dia “al pastor” your centerpiece. This butterflied beauty is perfectly charred, covered in tiny cubes of pineapple, and it comes with warm corn tortillas and that magnificent, tangy pineapple butter.

pescado del dia al pastor

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Eat enough aguachile that you feel like a glutton, but a glutton with slightly lower cholesterol than if you’d just had a big juicy steak. And when thoughts of that salty-sweet butter start ballooning in your brain on a random afternoon, remember: you can eat it whenever you want, right here in the seafood capital of Williamsburg. 

Food Rundown

The Cocktails

Mezcal lovers: Drink a brand you’ve never heard of here, either straight, or in a killer margarita (make it spicy). Mezcal nerds: On Wednesdays you can BYOB with your own bottle of mezcal.

Ensenada image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

The Happy Hour

The best way to do a weeknight at Ensenada is to swing by before 7pm, to experience one of Brooklyn’s best happy hours. Cocktails are $10, tacos and tostadas are $5. Order tuna tostadas, patatas bravas, and shrimp tacos liberally until Happy Hour ends, then turn to the rest of the menu for even more fish.

Pescaditos Fritos

Only available on the Happy Hour menu, this large pile of tiny fried fish and chipotle aioli is the perfect crunch between sips of something mezcal-spiked. Order it.

Patatas Bravas

The people at Ensenada know how to cook a potato. These patatas are crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and they come smothered in garlic aioli and a slightly spicy red sauce. Another excellent drinking snack, and also on the Happy Hour menu. Do the right thing and get a plate.

Ensenada image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Chips & Salsa

It’s actually chips and five salsas—including macha and a neon-orange chile de arbol—which might inspire a little salsa-ranking discussion. Any leftovers can be repurposed as toppings on other dishes, so don’t let them clear the table, even if you’ve finished the chips.

Ensenada image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Tostada de Atun

This tuna-wearing fried tortilla is one of our favorite things here, with limey guacamole, buttery tuna, salsa macha, paper-thin slivers of jalapeno, and some boutique cilantro. But then again, everything is our favorite thing here.

Taco de Pescado

We love the shrimp tacos, but if you’re making yourself choose (why?), go with the fish. It stays astonishingly crisp even on top of some chipotle aioli and under a layer of slaw, and it’s a great vehicle for whichever salsa you’ve decided is your favorite.

Ensenada image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Taco de Camaron

Imagine a few shrimps took a bath in some smokey, red salsa, then got all wrapped up in a corn tortilla towel, and then jumped into bed—the bed being your mouth. What a beautiful, and achievable, image.

Ensenada image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

The Aguachiles

There’s a verde, an amarillo, and—the spiciest—an aguachile negro. Since they no longer offer an aguachile sampler here, just order all three types for a DIY sampler. Then debate your favorite between bright, saucy bites of scallop, octopus, white fish, and shrimp.

The Ceviches

Yes, you’re ordering all three aguachiles, but when you’ve committed to an evening at Ensenada, you don’t hold back. You order a ceviche, too. There are two kinds, but we like the ceviche tradicional, which comes in a creamy, cilantro-oil spotted, leche de tigre.

detail of fish al pastor

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Pescado del Dia “Al Pastor”

How many times have you said to someone, “Just get a bunch of appetizers, the mains aren't as good." Probably once a week, if not more. Until you try this grilled fish—a nod to the chef's previous job at Cosme—which comes with a pineapple butter so magnificent it made us start thinking things like, “is butter a condiment?” Finally, you are free of your No Main Chains. Order this $49 whole fish of the day. Then recommend it to someone.

Pork Collar Milanesa

We know what you're thinking—this must be the cop-out main for fish-haters. We’re sorry to tell you you're wrong. The elements of this giant hunk of perfectly fried pork change with the seasons, but we’ve enjoyed it on a bed of celeriac puree. We’re still partial to the pescado del dia, but this won’t disappoint.

Pineapple Butter

Can we just talk about this one more time? Ask for some to go. Don't be afraid. You can do hard things, especially if it means pineapple butter all week long.

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