We finally have real Tex-Mex in New York City.
Or at least some people think so. Should you find yourself planning to eat at Javelina, a new Tex-Mexican restaurant in Gramercy, prepare to hear that statement a lot - both leading up to and during your meal.
If you're the type who researches your dinner before you eat it, you'll certainly come across several write-ups containing this very claim. As a matter of fact, Eater has seemed singlehandedly determined to make Javelina a success from the start - calling it a "white hot sensation" almost immediately after it opened, and even attesting to one menu item's Tex Mex legitimacy based on smell alone. Maybe the nose knows best. Or maybe they were just smelling some guaranteed pageviews.
As you are about to find out, we don't necessarily agree that Javelina is the true arrival of San Antonio in Manhattan. But the Javelina staff (obviously) do, and they will be sure to mention it at some point during your meal. They might even go so far as to name all of the folks on payroll who are from the actual, real life state of Texas. I can appreciate some love for the Lone Star State - much of my family is there. But this particular tactic adds about as much credibility to the meal as a plastic cactus on the table might. Let's let the food speak for itself. Then again, the most Texan thing you could possibly do in this situation is boast about anything and everything from Texas, so maybe keep it up. Go Cowboys.
Those who tout Javelina's ultimate Tex-Mexiness will point to one key piece of evidence from the menu, known best to Mexican food fans and elementary level Spanish speakers as "queso." Javelina has several varieties of queso on the menu, from "yellow" to "white" to a Texas classic called Bob Armstrong dip, which is basically Velveeta plus guac plus sour cream. Is it good? Of course it is. There is no such thing as bad melted cheese. But we also aren't ready to tell you to line up at Javelina to get your hands on the stuff. Other restaurants in town serve queso - and they are just as authentic to TexMexico as whatever you'll eat here. Alternatively, you could just fire up the microwave and serve some to yourself.
Beyond the queso, we've found the menu at Javelina to be full of hits and misses. I had a chile relleno here the other day that was excellent. Most of the tacos are a snooze. The enchiladas are fine, and the fajitas are satisfying. But there's one thing I can't get past, and it is undeniably affecting my opinion of this restaurant - the chips and salsa suck. Anyone who knows anything about a true Tex-Mex meal knows that 75% of the experience is eating so many fcking chips and so much salsa that you can hardly look at your enchiladas once they arrive because your mouth is on fire and you're so full you could barf. I've never been able to exercise will power when a basket of salty chips and good salsa is in front of me - I will shovel that sht into my mouth until man or divine intervention puts a stop to me. At Javelina I hit it and quit it with ease. The salsa is bland and the chips need salt. That's a cardinal sin in my book. And if I'm not excited about my entree with my appetite at full strength, what does that say? Probably that if I want to eat this food, I should just go to Texas.
Then again, this entire discussion operates on the assumption that you'll actually manage to get a table at Javelina, which you won't. Thanks to all that "real Tex Mex in New York City" hype, reservations are near impossible. Sorry, Cowboy fans.
Your basic choices are yellow or white, with a few combo specialties like the Bob Armstrong we referenced earlier. There really aren't any wrong answers, though we will say that regardless of which version we've ordered, we've found that it gets very gloppy very quickly. Eat it fast.
There are a lot of taco options on the menu at Javelina, from brisket to lamb to fish to avocado to mushroom. Our advice? Skip them all. The brisket version was the most memorable, but we were kind of just hoping for a simple soft taco with ground beef inside of it.
This one doesn't go in the previous taco category, because it's really a different thing. A corn tortilla is deep fried with pork shoulder inside it and topped with shredded lettuce, pickled onions, and Cotija cheese. This one is good. Order it.
I love chile rellenos. For those unfamiliar, a grilled poblano pepper is stuffed with cheese and beef and other good stuff, and deep fried. Here it's also topped with pecans and raisins, and the flavors are incredible. If Javelina was a restaurant that I could actually get into, serving only this, I'd be there weekly.
Of the enchilada options, you want the Enchiladas De Tejas, which are cheesy and covered in chile con carne. Not bad.
It doesn't get more Tex-Mex than fajitas, and these are pretty tasty, thanks to high quality steak and good tortillas. If you could simply roll in with some friends, drink a shitload of margaritas, and eat a pile of these, you'd be pretty happy. But after waiting an hour or a month or whatever to get in here, maybe not so much.