Meet El Cortez and Okiway: Two New Restaurants Making Bushwick Cooler Than Ever

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Photo: El Cortez (credit: Daniel Krieger)

Bushwick’s ascent from gritty, cheap rent paradise for broke creative types to gentrified, epicurean locale for the yopro generation is nearly complete with two new restaurants that opened this month: El Cortez and Okiway. El Cortez is the brainchild of Stephen Tanner, who brought fancy fried food to Williamsburg as the founder of Commodore, co-founder of Pies-N-Thighs, and former chef at Diner and egg. The guy knows bar food and with his new Bushwick venture, he’s ditching southern comfort fare for Tex-Mex. Okiway, meanwhile, is a niche Japanese eatery that stems from the izakaya craze sweeping New York. The self-proclaimed “Japanese bistro” comes from two unlikely candidates, longhaired Frenchman Vincent Minchelli and his partner Amanda Jenkins, two restaurant novices who are hairdressers by profession. Though their menus are different, El Cortez and Okiway will presumably attract the same crowd of sophisticated hipsters who want good food and quality drinks at the same time. Here’s what to expect from both restaurants.

El Cortez

17 Ingraham St., Bushwick

FoodThe menu, crafted by Tanner and his co-chefs Dennis Spina (Roebling Tea Room, River Styx) and Yvon de Tassigny (Saint Anslem), succeeds in delivering Tex-Mex specialities that don’t take themselves too seriously. Get the taco salad, nachos, chips and queso, and the deep-fried wonder that is the chimichanga. For the true American Mexican food experience, order the “All American Taco Night,” a plate of beef tacos topped with classic ingredients like iceberg lettuce, canned black olives and sour cream.

DrinkThe cocktails are strong and festive, like the rum-based Zombie served in a totem pole glass and the sweet rum-and-coconut Commodore, served with a cherry on top and a pineapple garnish.

AmbienceThis place is the definition of eccentric. Its outdoor white facade, wood paneling and totem pole resemble the entrance of a New Age church where’d you expect to find peyote. There’s not much that would suggest the “Mexican tiki” theme until you walk inside, where the retro bi-level space includes a mural of a Mayan temple and a separate alcove with palm leaf wallpaper. There’s a bar on each floor — the DJ and subsequent dance party can be found upstairs — and a patio for the summer nights.

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Photo: El Cortez, nachos (credit: Daniel Krieger)

Okiway

1600 Flushing Ave., Bushwick

FoodThe specialty here is okonomiyaki, a savoury grilled pancake dish whose origins trace back to Osaka and Hiroshima. The menu includes both traditional and fusion takes on the plate, like the Osaka-style, a porkbelly pancake topped with Japanese kewpie mayonnaise, and the Hiroshima-style topped with crispy ramen noodles. There’s also a Mexican version with chorizo, crema, chipotle, avocado and cilantro, and a BBQ pulled-pork one. Small plates like fried shrimp with sriracha and wasabi guacamole are solid complements to the main event.

DrinkThere are Japanese beers and plenty of sake, but we suggest the wasabi beer.

AmbienceThe small, 40-seat space is colorful but minimalist and includes a 12-seat counter to watch the kitchen action. Skateboards with anime-like designs hang on the wall, Japanese action figures are displayed over the window, and paper lanterns announce the Japanese cuisine.

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Photo: Okiway, okonomiyaki

For more places to eat and drink in New York right now, check out the BlackBook City Guides.