Tijuana Picnic is where you want to have your 25th birthday. Give or take a decade in either direction (New York City kids grow up fast, and love having birthday parties on the Lower East Side), but your Dad's 60th? Probably not. This is party time. Also: it's reasonably priced, nicely decorated, takes reservations for groups of four or more, and has a menu that's ideal for sharing.
The space feels a bit like if Miss Lily's were more spacious and also served tacos. It's split in two levels - upstairs is a mix of long picnic tables and booths, while downstairs is darker, with a long bar and space for your group of 12 to make all the noise you want. There are, of course, a whole bunch of Mexican places on the Lower East Side accommodating to groups, but we found this one to be particularly fun and fresh right now - a scene of sorts but without too much pretension, and a party time vibe without being total mayhem.
The food? Pretty good, especially once your friend Mezcal arrives. (Her parents were a very specific kind of hippie.) There's a mix of small starters like empanadas and ceviches, followed by tacos and skewers, and finished off by large format plates to share. Nothing's too big, so you probably want all of these things on your table. Some dishes have subtly Asian or otherwise non- Mexican influences, but calling it fusion would be a stretch.
Calling it enjoyable and fun, however, would not. Happy Birthday.
Fancy guacamole. It comes with bits of corn, some radishes, and fresh-tasting blue chips.
The empanadas are filled with duck, foie gras, and cognac. We mostly only tasted the duck. These were not our favorite.
Tacos come two to an order. You know the deal - steak, chicken, shrimp, and a vegetarian poblano pepper option, each with a little bit of modern updating. Seen here, and consumed previously, by us: the chicken with scallion and pieces of crispy chicken chicharron. It works, for sure.
You know what everyone likes to eat while drinking? Meat on a stick. People who want to say they ate mako shark kebabs can do just that. Everyone else can be pleased by short rib with a side of kimchi.
This little cup of corn may actually be our favorite thing here. Get one. One per person, maybe.