Eating my way through Mexico City

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Fig tart, Contramar

Many cities around the world have a distinctive and singular reputation. In LA just about everything’s related to entertainment. In Washington DC, it’s all about politics. Seattle’s the place for coffee. Nashville is the home of music, while Mexico City is famous for (my favorite of all pastimes) – eating. But food in Mexico is not the same as Mexican food. So, if you’re expecting to read all about the capital of Tex Mex cuisine: the nirvana of nachos, the bliss of burritos, the felicity of fajitas, the ecstasy of enchiladas, stop reading right now!

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Grilled red snapper, Contramar

Mexico City, the surprisingly sophisticated and largest metropolis in North America (affectionately abbreviated as CDMX – Ciudad de Mexico) buzzes with unique and interesting tastes that reach back through a history of Mayan, Aztec and European influences to deliver some of the most extraordinary and astonishing food in the world. To make it simple, I have broken down my preferences into two categories: Street food and Table food.

Street Food

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Unlike the food truck epidemic ravaging the US, it’s quite common to see rural families who commute 6+ hours a day just to cook their centuries-old specialties over griddles on the sidewalks of CDMX’s historic center, while cars, trucks, motorbikes and organ grinders vroom, rattle, honk and hiss by. Pedestrians can grab a bite on the go, eat standing up, or use an upturned bucket as a make-shift seat under the shade of a piece of tarp with a bag of napkins suspended from hooks above. While the immediate environment for our Tengo Hambre street food tour might not have been the most conducive to savoring, appreciating and relishing, the food itself was utterly sensational. In fact, I’d like to dispense with all the adjectives right now and declare that everything served on the streets of CDMX was equal parts delectable, yummy, mouthwatering, sublime, scrumptious and delicious.

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Tengo Hambre Street Food Tour

We learned early on that Tamales are only requested and eaten during the daytime. Just like Weißwurst in Germany or Cappuccino in Italy, it’s considered a faux pas to order a tamale after midday. In addition, Quesadillas in CDMX aren’t necessarily made with cheese, but they are all oval shaped to differentiate them from their (rounder) taco cousins.

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Deep fried Jalapeño’s stuffed with cheese

We tried Squash blossom, Huitlacoche Mushroom with epazote leaf (which gives it an umami boost), Chipotle short rib, and finally Trumpet mushroom quesadillas. Then came a deep-fried Jalapeño pepper stuffed with cheese and smothered with a lime juice marinated onion and habanero relish.

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Tacos al Pastor, El Hequito

As we continued to walk past the music instrument quarter, the textiles quarter and then right into the heart of the plumbing quarter, we were suddenly surrounded by the best toilets and tacos the city has to offer. El Hequito is a tiny street food chain that has only one item on the menu – Tacos al Pastor. The youngest in the taco family only made their debut in the 1940’s as a reaction to the influx of Lebanese immigrants, as never before would a Mexican dream of carving meat from a shwarma tower. Unlike Al Pastor in other cities, here the pineapple is substituted for sweet onions which catch the drippings from the layers and layers of marinated meat revolving above them.

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Crickets, Mercado San Juan

There are an astounding 800 markets in Mexico City, with 300 of them indoors. Not only does each neighborhood have its own mercado, but some of them cater to specific types of shoppers. The Mercado San Juan is a favorite of chefs and foodies. Here you can find out-of-season ingredients that are imported from all parts of the world to go along with Mexican fruits like Chinco sapote which tastes a bit like a stewed pear, or the Mamey which is a cross between a sweet potato and a papaya, or the Cherimoya or Jack fruit which tastes like an overripe and ultra-sweet papaya. Insects are still a big deal in Mexican cuisine. It’s not uncommon to chew on or cook with worms, ants, scorpions or larvae. Prior to the introduction of livestock, bugs were the only source of protein available to inland Mexicans. At the mercado, we tried Crickets 3-ways (garlic, chili and plain), all equally crunchy and salty as a fistful of popcorn. Ants like Chicatanas however, (much nuttier than crickets) are very rare, as they are only harvested on a single night after the first rain of the season and are therefore eaten with a dose of appropriate solemn appreciation.

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Chorizo Verde, Mercado San Juan

We couldn’t help noticing coils of bright green sausages dangling above several of the butcher stands. These Green chorizo are made with pork, almonds, cilantro, raisins, peanuts and salsa verde and are cooked out of the casing for a highly popular taco, but none more so than the 100+ line outside Los Cocuyos, who serve Masisa (head meat) or Brisket chorizo tacos all day and all night long.

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Brisket chorizo tacos, Los Cocuyos

The last and most filling taco we tasted was called a Tlacoyo. These are grayish oval discs that get a helping of refried beans inserted inside the blue-corn masa which has been nixtamalized (corn detox) before being grilled and topped with meat, salsa and cheese.

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Churros, Churrería el Moro

And by way of dessert, nothing disappears faster than a bucket of fresh sugar and cinnamon infested mini Churros from Churrería El Moro.

Table food.

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Condensed goat milk tart, Meroma

It’s rather curious that many of the highly desirable restaurants in CDMX are open for breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. Some we asked said that dinner is a less important meal for locals, while others were more inclined to get home to be with their families. As a result CDMX is littered with prolific breakfast options not offered in most other cities. One baked goods standout is Panadería Rosetta.

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Guava pastry, Panadería Rosetta

This staple in the Roma neighborhood churns out all manner of breads, sandwiches and eggs, but the “I’ll have what she’s having” order is for the delectable Guava pastry (a round croissant with a central well of guava preserve and a dollop of cream cheese wedged into the base) or the vanilla/chocolate Concha (a very soft and fluffy brioche with a sugary crust). Just the way to start the day.

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Fresh chocolate/vanilla conchas, Panadería Rosetta

Every foodie you speak to will have at least 10 go-to favorites for meals in CDMX. I’ll do my best to narrow it down.

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Contramar

Contramar is definitely one of my top 2 – not just because Gabriela Cámara’s athletic waitstaff can turn a table in under 20 seconds or that they literally bolt past you at a sprint for the entire service, but for their Tuna tostadas (who no doubt have their own Facebook account by now) with an amazingly tart aioli, crispy fried onions and avocado, and their signature schizophrenic but sumptuous Grilled red snapper filet which sports a green parsley/garlic salsa on the left side and a red-orange chili on the right, encapsulating the Mexican flag on a plate. Make sure to leave room for their ridiculously hedonistic glazed Fig (cheesecake) tart and a glass of Carajillo – which is the cold Mexican version of a hot Irish coffee.

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Tuna tostadas, Contramar

On a shady corner in Roma Norte, a converted house delivers one mega hit after the other at Bistro Máximo. Three of the French-leaning standouts in chef Eduardo Garcia’s tasting menu that I almost flipped over was a strip of Dominico banana topped with caviar and crème fraiche with a few dots of maple syrup for some unexpected sweetness, a formidable Tuna sashimi with shaved white truffles and a scrumptious Sweet potato-stuffed ravioli.

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Sweet potato-stuffed ravioli, Bistro Máximo

A few blocks away, chef Rodney Cusic serves up a truly inspired local ingredients using international techniques at Meroma. We tried the Roasted carrot salad with grilled cucumbers, wheat berries and an absolutely sublime oregano sesame dressing, rivaled only by the chile manzano dressing that supported a delightful Scallop tiradito with melon, wheat crisps and peppermint oil. Equally spectacular was the roasted lamb with an amazing green fennel sauce and cardamom pesto and the crispy Catch of the day, braised with roasted peppers, grilled cabbage, basil, pine nuts for layer upon flavored layer. I also had to try the surprisingly rich Condensed goat milk tart with whipped cream and chamomile.

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Meroma

And topping my list, chef husband and wife team Saqib and Norma’s fusion bistro Masala y Maiz is an absolute culinary utopia of bold flavors and accents from Mexico, India and East Africa. The menu is riddled with political commentaries and a mixture of family favorite dishes that push the boundaries of geography, stereotype and expectation.

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Samosas de Temporada, Masala y Maiz

According to one of the sous chefs, the Samosas de Temporada sit on a heavenly sauce “made from poppy seeds, curry spices, carrots and God knows what else”.

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Camarones de Pa’ Pelar, Masala y Maiz

The sensational Camarones de Pa’ Pelar are first marinated and then cooked in the Grandma’s special chili and herb mixture – the contents of which were forbidden to reveal. The fried chicken Pollo Frito is marinated in yoghurt overnight and then coated in chickpea flour before being fried in coconut oil and dressed with a herb chutney and a jam of sweet and sour macha chilies. Chef Saqib also promotes a wide variety of “natural” wines that all hail from his personal friends’ vineyards in France, Italy and California.

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Pollo Frito, Masala y Maiz

Widening the field a bit, I would definitely include Yakumanka for their sensational ceviche, Noso for a litany of Basque specialties such as a Vichyssoise served over thick dollop of leek paste and their liquid nitrogen ice-cream, Panadería Ideal for the sheer overwhelming volume of their fresh cake, cookie and pastry selection convenientely located at eye and finger level, and if you happen to snag a reservation for the oh-so-trendily unavailable Pujol or Quintonil, be sure to give them my regards!

http://www.contramar.com.mx/english.html

https://www.masalaymaiz.com/

https://meroma.mx/

Rosetta

index

https://clubtengohambre.com/

http://www.maximobistrot.com.mx/

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Chocolate concha, Panadería Rosetta

 

 

 

My Top 38 Restaurants in New York City

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After much begging, pleading, mooing and meowing, I finally succumbed to share a list of my personal favorite food haunts in New York City. And because not all meals are created equal – nor are all palates or pockets, I took the liberty of dividing the list into 7 convenient categories to help you retrace my foodie foodsteps. But before you proceed to cut-and-paste, there’s a caveat we need to be clear on:

While none of my restaurant or meal recommendations mentioned here are “one-dish-wonders”, I cannot accept any liability for sub-par experiences due to off-nights, falling standards, menu omissions, inflated hype or chef dismissals. The food was amazing when I ate there! Just sayin’.

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Le Bernadin “Egg”

In the new year, the only thing higher than legend-busting rents (au revoir Union Square Café, Barbuto, Costata etc.), will be the highest minimum wage for restaurant workers in the city’s history. So if someone else is footing the bill, let’s label the first category as EXPENSE ACCOUNT EXCESS.

Daniel $$$+

An immaculate, flawless and unforgettable experience. The service, the presentation, the food itself and (as sincerely as only he can muster) the traditional table-side greeting by Chef Boulud himself.

Eleven Madison Park $$$+

Daniel Humm finds the right balance between shi-shi molecular gastronomy curiosities and one of the best meals in the city today. Not your average cup of tea, so make sure your party can handle Carrot foam and Carrot Tartare.

 Le Bernadin $$$+

Also clutching his 3 Michelin stars, chef Eric Ripert is the consummate host and venerable architect of so many dishes that have inspired the careers of two generations of toques. His legendary “Egg” – while no longer on the menu is a must-have.

 

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Svizzerina (bun-less burger) from Via Carota

The next group of restaurants are literally mood-altering locations, that the mere thought of eating there instantly puts a smile on my face. These are my ALL-TIME FAVORITES

Upland $$

Great space, great vibe and the menu is replete with hit-makers, but the Duck Wings are to die for.

Via Carota $

Very vibey face-brick room decked out with antique shnick-shnack as a typical West Village backdrop for some sensational and affordable dishes like the Svizzerina bun-less burger.

Buvette $

I absolutely adore this little French bistro with Barbie-doll-sized tables, stools and dishes. Jodi Williams cranks out the most astoundingly delicious French mini plates. Great for brunch.

Momofuku Ssam $

Some might say this is David Chang’s ATM, but the guy puts an unbeatable Korean spin on anything he touches. Fun, friendly and flavorful. Great for lunch. Steamed pork buns were pretty much invented here. Spicy Pork Sausage rice cakes are also sensational.

The Musket Room $$

Only in New York can a big, beafy, tattoo-shmeared New Zealander use Kickstarter to open a chef’s favorite haunt with the most delicate and robust flavors. Berkshire Pork done two-ways, Southland Lamb done two-ways and the Passion fruit Pavlova are outstanding. (See earlier review)

Estela $$

There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said about this unpretentious hit-maker. Even the Obama’s have to stop in every time they’re in town. Beef Tartare with Sunchokes, Mussels escabeche, Burrata with salsa-verde, Lamb ribs and Rib eye. (See earlier review)

Marc Forgione $$

Dark, moody and filled with regulars. The Bell & Evans Chicken under a brick for 2 in this TriBeCa landmark is legendary.

Little Owl $$

With more dishes on anyone’s favorites list than any other kitchen of its size (and too many to mention here), this simple room of 20 or so seats is tough to get into, but well worth the wait.

Narcissa $$

Ask for a table on the kitchen side, so you can see the army of Veg-forward chefs put the final touches on the 5-hour Rotisserie-crisped Beets, or Carrots Wellington or Barley Risotto with Baby Clams. (See earlier review)

 

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Braised Halibut with Pink Peppercorn Sauce from The Clocktower

Creating a unique and unforgettable menu in tough enough, but when the location itself is dripping with drama and atmosphere, you have to be at a place that is COOL, HIP & HAPPENIN’

The Nomad $$$

Daniel Humm does it again. Each of the four lavishly gawdy rooms feels like you’ve just stepped onto the set of “La Traviata.” Don’t miss the incomparable (and pricey) Foie gras, black truffle and brioche stuffed Roast Chicken served two ways.

The Clocktower $$$

Wow! Talk about making a statement! UK native and Michelin winner Jason Atherton has created a deliciously sexy space with a whole host of unstoppable dishes like the Dressed crab with uni and apples or the Hand chopped Steak Tartare au poivre or the Braised Halibut with pink peppercorn sauce as well as a collection of knockout signature cocktails.

Betony $$

The funny thing about Manhattan’s midtown is that even though it is the central focus of business and tourism, you can sometimes count blog-worthy restaurants on one claw. Bryce Shuman however serves up picture perfect dishes in an intricately carved space that feels like you just climbed into a plush picture frame. The chef’s tasting menu is an experience. (See earlier review)

Beauty & Essex $

I love bringing out-of-towners here. It’s impossibly irreverent, ridiculously popular and surprisingly satisfying. The door on the far side of a pawn shop opens into a sumptuous and heady lounge where you can barrage yourself with a litany of tapas plates including the Roasted Bone Marrow on toast, Grilled cheese and Tomato Soup dumplings and the Lobster Tacos.

 Untitled at the Whitney $$

The Whitney Museum’s recently unveiled, clean-lined, glassy architectural new digs is also home to Danny Meyer’s latest jewel in the crown which has become as popular and eye-catching as some of the artworks upstairs. What it lacks in views, it surpluses in modern dishes. Try the Roasted and Fried Chicken and the Lamb Meatballs with peanut sauce.

 

Jerk Chicken WIngs at Ma Peche

Even with 20,000 restaurants to choose from, New York still manages to squeeze out a newcomer every other day. But there are a handful of locales that for years and years have set unwavering standards without compromise, that constantly deliver on being SOLIDLY RELIABLE

Perry Street $

Jean-George protégé (and descendant) Cedric Vongerichten still packs them into this über-modern, airy space right on the Hudson river. The Perry Street Fried Chicken is remarkable.

Locanda Verde $$

The perpetually-popular Anthony Carmelini and Robert De Niro partner shop is one of the best bets in TriBeCa. The Sheep’s Milk Ricotta is one of a kind, not to mention the Duck Arrosto and the all-time favorite Paccheri with Sunday night ragu. (See earlier review)

Ma Peche $$

David Chang’s midtown Korean dim-sum palace looks a bit like an army med-evac tent, but when those little Dim-sum carts come rolling past bearing Jerk Chicken Wings, Roasted rice-cakes or the Habanero Fried Chicken, you remind yourself not to judge a book by its cover. (See earlier review)

Marea $$$+

The epicenter of Michael White’s Altamarea group anchors Central Park at this standout Italian-seafood showpiece. It’s a bit posh, but the food is very real. The Fusilli covered in red wine braised octopus and bone marrow is what it’s all about.

Dell’ Anima $

It’s intimate, packed with regulars and at times rather smokey, thanks to the all-in-one kitchen-dining room. The daily specials are always amazing, but the Bruschettas are legendary.

ABC Kitchen $$

Of all the all-natural locovore palaces in town, this one set the bar early and high. Jean-George’s spacious room continues to draw a crowd for dishes as varied as the days of the week.

Hudson Clearwater $

There are a bunch of cute, atmospheric bistros in the West Village, but few of them are as unpretentious as this one. Small menu, exceptional service, great food. I love the Grilled grass-fed Hanger Steak or the Pan-seared local fish of the day.

Annisa $$

Anita Lo’s little shop that could – always does. Very intricate dishes, brimming with flavor and imagination that span the globe like the Seared Foie Gras with Soup dumplings and Jicama or the Duo of Rabbit.

 

 

Husk Meringue - Cosme

Cosme’s Husk Meringue

In the NYC melting pot, it’s not surprising that chef’s from all over the globe abide by the adage: “If you can make it there, you’ll make it in Singapore, Vegas, London, Shanghai and Beverly Hills” Here are my current favorite authentic INTERNATIONAL KNOCKOUTS

Cosme $$$

It was no surprise that Enrique Olvera’s first foray in the US would be a sell-out hit, but I doubt even he realized just how nuts we would all be over his hyper-authentic, gourmet Mexican cuisine. If you’re feeling generous, splurge on the Duck Carnitas, and the (beyond incredible) smashed Husk Meringue. (See earlier review)

ABC Cucina $

On the north side of the block from ABC Kitchen, Jean-George points his magic compass towards the Iberian coastline for a super-sophisticated tapas bar with much curb appeal. I adore the Chipotle Chicken Tacos and the best Patatas Bravas in town. (See earlier review)

Bar Jamon $$

Just around the corner from Casa Mono, Mario Batali & friends’ incredibly authentic Spanish bistro is one of my favorite (and alas not so secret) mini wine bars in the city. Specializing in a broad range of known (and not so well known) Spanish wines, they also hand-carve a delectable Jamon Iberico along with any number of other traditional favorites.

El quinto Piño $

There are a curious number of adorable little Spanish bistros in Chelsea, that range from tragic to traditional. This is one of my favorite spots that is super simple, but the food is full of flavor without the fuss. Everyone loves the Uni Panini or the Bocadillo de Calamar. (See earlier review)

Babu Ji $

Curiously enough Jesse Singh’s authentic Indian cooking is attributed to his Grandmother who hailed from Bombay, but his business is a replica of his hugely successful curry shop in Melbourne, Australia. It’s nothing more than a jumble of a room in Alphabet City with a “serve yourself” beer fridge in the corner, but the food is beyond inspired. I recommend the Chef’s Tasting Menu which highlights with vegetable filled puff-pastry balls called Pani Puri, a Lamb Raan, Butter Chicken and end off with Kulfi ice-cream bars flavored with cardamom and honey.

Haldi $

Of the forty or so Indian restaurants that comprise “Curry Hill”, Haldi is the reigning champion. The menu boasts just enough traditional Calcutta fare, while leaving room for a plethora of gourmet dishes never before seen on South Lexington Avenue menus. The Chicken Tikka Masala is legendary, while the Creamy Shrimp with carom seeds is stunningly surprising.

Bar Bolonat $

Ainat Admony’s modern Israeli-Arab menu is chock full of mega hits. Whatever you do, bring an appetite for the Jerusalem Bagel that you dip into oil and Za’atar spices and the equally delicious teardrop-shaped Hudson Street Kibbeh or the Shrimp in Yemenite curry, but leave room for the Fried Baklava Ice cream which melts out and mixes in the pistachio syrup. (See earlier review)

Han Dynasty $

Searing hot success story from Philly, the Szechuan peppercorn-heavy menu won’t disappoint. The Dan-Dan Noodles are a must, and if you can stand the heat, you have to try the mouth-numbing Dry Pepper Chicken Wings. (See earlier review)

Tuome $

A micro-bistro with Asian influences from an accountant turned chef. Try the Egg – which is panko fried with pickles, or the Pig which is a checkerboard of delicious pork morsels, or the duck-fat infused Rice. (See earlier review)

Carbone $$

The Torrisi Food group’s masterful red-sauce restaurant is close enough to Little Italy without feeling like a carbon copy of any other Italian restaurant in the city – and there are hundreds! Order the Caesar salad and the Veal Parm or go home. (See earlier review)

Marta $$

If you love thin-crust pizza, then you will adore Marta almost as much as me. Nick Anderer (via Danny Meyer)’s double pizza ovens seem to hold up the roof in the open-plan lobby of the Martha Washington hotel. The pesto flavored Arancini appetizer and the Potate alla Carbonara pizza are my favorite orders. (See earlier review)

Khe-Yo $

Intimate, dark and full of atmosphere. Chef Schwader (Marc Forgione protégé) shows off his Laotian prowess. If you like flavor forward, you’re in for a treat. The Sesame Beef Jerkey, Chili Prawns and Berkshire Pork ribs are a must, and don’t be shy to re-order the Sticky Rice. One helping is just not enough. (See earlier review)

Wallse $$

Kurt Gutenbrunner has a network of Austrian bistros all over town, but the best Wiener Schnitzel in the city has to be had at Wallse. If you want to savor the best in Viennese coffee bars, try his Café Zabarsky inside the Neue Gallerie for a Große Braune and a slice of Sachertorte.

 

 

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Fried Chicken Sandwich with Fu-ket Peanut sauce and slaw by Fuku

My expectations have no relationship to the size of a dish. Even a between-meal munchie or an informal, inexpensive supper needs to be the best there is. Here are some that offer QUICK, CHEAP & CHEERFUL

FukuFried chicken sandwich

Bianca – A cash only, no reservations, super inexpensive treat. Lasagne to end all Lasagnes.

Mile End – Canadian style Smoked Beef Sandwich bar with a delicious Poutine

Smith and Mills – Little plates and cocktails in a former carriage house

Salvation Taco – Gourmet tacos

Umami Burger – (See earlier review)

 

 

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Chef’s menu platter from Babu Ji

And finally because there are only three meals a day, many of which I choose to cook myself, I find myself collecting an ever-growing STILL “TO-TRY” LIST

Batârd

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fair

Contra

Dominic Ansel Kitchen

Little Park

Lupulo

Mission Chinese Food

Oiji

Russ & Daughters Café

Sadelle’s

Sushi Nakazawa

Salvation Burger

Santina

Semilla

Shuko

Hudson Street Kibbeh - Bar Bolonat

Hudson Street Kibbeh from Bar Bolonat

http://www.danielnyc.com

http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

http://www.le-bernadin.com

http://www.uplandnyc.com

http://www.viacarota.com

http://www.ilovebuvette.com

https://reservations.momofuku.com/login

http://www.themusketroom.com

http://www.estelanyc.com

http://www.marcforgione.com

http://www.thelittleowlnyc.com

http://www.narcissarestaurant.com

http://www.thenomadhotel.com

http://www.theclocktowernyc.com

http://www.betony-nyc.com

http://www.beautyandessex.com

http://www.untitledatthewhitney.com

http://www.perrystrestaurant.com

http://www.locandaverdenyc.com

http://www.marea-nyc.com

http://www.dellanima.com

https://www.abchome.com/eat/abc-kitchen/

http://www.hudsonclearwater.com

http://www.annisarestaurant.com

http://www.cosmenyc.com

http://www.casamononyc.com

http://www.elquintopinonyc.com

http://www.babujinyc.com

http://www.haldinyc.com

http://www.barbolonatny.com

http://handynasty.net/east-village/

http://www.tuomenyc.com

http://www.carbonenewyork.com

http://www.martamanhattan.com

http://www.kheyo.com

http://www.kg-ny.com/wallse

 

 

Petty Cash Taquería, Los Angeles review

Not that it really matters, but when it comes down to it, there isn’t much that’s authentic about Walter Manzke’s popular taco temple Petty Cash Taqueria on LA’s miracle mile. His chef de cuisine Fabian Gallardo might come from south of the border, but he has actually spent a disproportionate amount of his cooking career in Italian kitchens on the east coast. Nor is “Petty Cash” much of a giveaway for the Tijuana inspired cuisine either. (Turns out the name was taken from a band that used to perform cover songs by Tom Petty and Johnny Cash.) And perhaps it’s a bit of an overreach to create a graffiti-covered, East LA-inspired, street-food-meets-street-art crossroads in the middle of ritzy Beverly Blvd. But hey, I have to hand it to them – they have most certainly pulled it off!

The casual, bright and airy, bar stool bedecked space feels like a rambunctious communal dining room that feeds off of an effervescent bar. And while a vast majority of the young “hora feliz” crowd might be transient, the buttercup yellow menus offer a myriad reasons to linger way past happy hour. Not surprisingly, the cocktail program is rather impressive, with vertical and horizontal flights of Tequilas and Mezcals seldom seen this far north of Baja, plus some kitchen-inspired combinations using avocado, tomato water and chilies.

The Bomb.com - Petty Cash Taquería

The Bomb.com

The Nachos might be legendary, but something referred to as the Bomb.com is an irrefutable runaway hit. Appropriately named by one of the kitchen staff and concocted quite by accident, the bowl of chunky guacamole is generously surrounded by a coliseum of Santa Barbara sea urchin with a flask of (what might look like biodegradable packaging materials but are in fact) the most wonderfully dry, light and crispy Chicharrones (pork rinds) my teeth have ever had the delight of snapping into. The delicious explosion of a buttery, salty, creamy crunch has elevated my hankering for Guac ‘n Chips like never before.

Hamachi Ceviche - Petty Cash Taquería

Hamachi Ceviche

The Ceviche bar offers a “build-your-own” Aguachile, which is a house-made Climato version of the famous marinated seafood cocktail – in addition to a few traditional options, like bright slithers of zesty and refreshing Himachi with lime, tomatillo and avocado. Our server also recommended the newly added (and perhaps ripe for reconsideration) Ceviche salad, which brought back old memories of a real fishing trip, where forkful after forkful yielded nothing more than cabbage and peanuts, and only once in a great while – a tiny reward.

But it’s all about the tacos. Whether it’s the shatter-crisp, beer-battered Mahi-Mahi, the citrusy, smokey char-grilled Octopus, the picante adobe-rubbed Pork Shoulder, the Carne Asada, the tempura Acorn Squash or any of the other gourmet creations – the local, seasonal and natural ingredients that chef Gallardo forages for at various farmers markets are only eclipsed by the unbeatable price of around $5 – $6 a pop. His confident use of flavors, marinades, fruits, herbs, garnishes and other surprises, create deeply satisfying and highly attractive servings. The warmth of the freshly pressed tacos reminded me of that wonderfully magnetic sensation you get when you grab hold of a just-scooped, flavor-spiked taco from the serving hatch of an ultra-popular food truck with an enviably long line around the block, followed by sealing up the top edge over the onions and the cilantro, and then balancing the bottom end onto your lip – so as not to lose a morsel of its delectable contents, as you send it into the tasting gallery…

Pettycashtaqueria.com

El Presidente review

El Presidente -

El Presidente

Never underestimate the power of simplicity. When simple ideas have the power to mean volumes, like the New York expression “Meh!”  In a nutshell “meh” is used to describe that feeling of mild disappointment that follows tremendous hype, hysteria and anticipation. New Yorkers generally only use “meh” when they feel strongly about something – even if it diametrically contradicts how everyone else feels. The meaning of “meh” hovers somewhere on the sunny side of “dislike” or “disappointment”. Not quite as heavy as “awful”, and yet it has about 8 pounds more belly-fat than “just ok”.   My recent visit to the Tacombi team’s newest taquería in the Flatiron district El Presidente could suffice with this monosyllabic review, but here’s why it was a bit “meh” for me.

The concept is fine: an ultra-casual, all secrets exposed, street-vendor styled red-paint-and-white-tiled cantina, serving only 17 menu options, all for less than $15. The 3-sides-open kitchen is practically within spitting distance of every table, yet thanks to the sparse service, none of the food arrives hot. (Who in the world would want to corner the market for tepid tacos?)

El Presidente - Señorita Carnitas (Roasted Pork Tacos)

Señorita Carnitas (Roasted Pork tacos)

The Señorita Carnitas are the flavor winners. With their dark and sweet marinade topped with cheese and pickles, these two-bite-sized tacos need no additional salsas or peppers. And the tangy and toasty Esquites – a paper cup (not quite) filled with fire-grilled corn and chipotle mayo with melting Cotija cheese is spectacular.

El Presidente - Crispy Fish taco

Crispy Fish taco

Whereas the much ballyhoo’d Crispy Fish tacos need a little more time in the design studio. The too-large slice of batter-fried cod combined with the yummy (but soggy) Cilantro Crema proves a tad too taxing for the soft, homemade shells. And so unless you are blessed with more than thirteen fingers, a good majority of the dish won’t quite make it into your mouth.

El Presidente - Pollo Valladolid (Braised Chicken tacos)

Pollo Valladolid (Braised Chicken tacos)

The Pollo Valladolid’s braised Achiote Chili Chicken and Sour Orange was altogether too tame. I tried adding one of the grilled Jalapeño’s, which only succeeded in blowing the hubcaps off of every car parked on 24th street, but did nothing to give this taco any real taste.

Perhaps David Chang is correct in thinking that there might be other cities in the US that produce better Mexican food than NY. Is it the lack of access to authentic produce? Or could it be the lack of a truly discerning public who knows what the real deal should taste like?     Or maybe it’s just…meh!

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