8.0
NYC

Lalito

Perfect For: Date Night Girls' Night Out
PHOTOS: Noah Devereaux

For many years before Lalito took over 104 Bayard Street in Chinatown, the space was a karaoke dive bar called Winnie’s. It was one medium-sized room, with a stage at the front. To select a song, you’d write it down on a scrap of paper with a tiny golf pencil, and hand it to the bartender along with $1. They’d then play the song on a laserdisc, with the requisite ridiculous karaoke background video playing. The bar was always serving flaming shots, and the crowd was always varied and random in the best way. Once, I left my credit card there and came back at 4pm the next day to see the bar’s staff taking shots of what appeared to be Courvoisier. It was the kind of place that made you think, “Yes, this is why I live in New York.”

In other words, Lalito had big shoes to fill. Run by the chef who previously operated the Lower East Side coffee shop El Rey and turned it into a cool spot for dinner (no longer the case, BTW), Lalito is a trendy, vaguely Mexican restaurant serving everything from pork carnitas to a vegan caesar salad. There are also “vegan chicharrones” (surprisingly good and interesting) and chorizo-stuffed squid and at lunchtime, a “Mexican doner.” You could maybe call it “California-influenced” but they also purposely excluded any form of avocado from the menu, just so you know Lalito isn’t like all the other kids at school.

And that’s a good way to describe Lalito overall: it’s original. The space (yellow walls and yellow booths at an old bar in Chinatown) and the food (Mexican-ish, but dishes you’ve never seen before, a bunch of it vegan) are definitely different from anything else out there. You’ll have a fun time here, and you’ll eat some tasty food along with it. We like it for a date or casual dinner, but you should also keep it in mind for brunch or weekday lunch, especially if you’re ever on jury duty. It’s around the corner from the courthouses, so when you next end up on jury duty with an hour lunch break, Lalito is absolutely where you should spend it.

You won’t be belting out “Sweet Caroline” and following it with a flaming sambuca shot here, but this place is an original, and in a different way, it’s still the kind of place that’ll make you happy you live here.

Food Rundown

Vegan Caesar

When you look over the menu, “vegan caesar” with nutritional yeast is probably the last thing your eye will be drawn to. But don’t miss this - the nutritional yeast actually adds an awesome tang and these are some good greens to have on your table.

Vegan Chicharrones

Once again, sounds questionable, but great to eat. These definitely don’t really taste like pork cracklings, but that’s OK - you’ll like it anyway.

Carnitas

Probably the most straightforward thing on the menu, and when it comes out right, it’s also the best. They don’t nail this every time (the tortillas were a little hard on one visit), but when they do, they really do. This is a simple dish of tender pork that come with fresh made tortillas for some DIY tacos.

Baby Steak

Despite being described as a “baby” steak this isn’t part of some secret kids’ menu. It does, however, come at the kids’ menu price of $15.

Chorizo Stuffed Squid

Anything stuffed with chorizo usually sounds like it’ll be a lot to handle, but this is surprisingly light. The hibiscus vinaigrette on top is a nice touch.

Boquerones Tostadas

Fresh anchovies on a tortilla chip with some radish and salsa. A funky, tangy bite that’s kind of like a passed hors d’oeuvre, but more interesting.

Cali Kasha Varnishkes

Served at lunch and brunch, this is like a Jewish-California pasta salad, and it’s served in a Mexican-ish restaurant in Chinatown that used to be a karaoke dive bar. Told you New York was special. Get a poached egg on top.

Blackened Fish Sandwich

Attention jury duty folks: eating this for lunch is your civic duty. It’s a great sandwich: squishy bun, crispy fish, spicy and tangy toppings.

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