New York has gone from a Mexican food wasteland to a flourishing scene in just a handful of years. Things have heated up so much that chefs from way north of the border are throwing their sombreros in the ring. Newcomers Salvation Taco (pictured) and Cocina Economica Mexico let authenticity play off of creativity. Partnering up with Mexican-born chefs ensures the cooking stays legit.
Gastropub legend April Bloomfield may hail from the West Midlands, but she’s developed a taste for taquerias. With her Spotted Pig partner Ken Friedman, she’s now serving Mexican at the Pod 39 hotel. Gamy meats carry over, with crispy pig ear, pork belly and pineapple salad, and lamb tongue tortas all making the menu. Tacos push boundaries, employing naan for cover, or stuffed with roast cauliflower and curried crema. Roberto Santibañez of the Fonda restaurants adds his expertise to the kitchen. There’s a ringer on the cocktail side, too, as Sam Anderson of Hotel Delmano crafts drinks that are as original as the food. The Sonora Old Fashioned blends tequila, chili-honey, and grapefruit bitters with bacanora, the rarest of the agave liquors. Décor goes whole hog on the Mexican theme. A carved fruit and veggie wall looks cribbed from Carmen Miranda’s hat. Terracotta floors, tile tables, and circa-1919 brick walls keep the balance of the space warm.
Chef David Bank is Thailand born and raised, but he’s embracing the spirit of Mexico. His sous chef at Land Thai Kitchen, Pedro Hernandez Perez, has inspired a southward look. Together the two chefs are putting creative slants on Mexican front-room family restaurants. At Cocina Economica Mexico, tacos come stuffed with everything from cactus to octopus to beef cheeks. Entrées are split between casseroles and the grill. The market-driven menu finds combinations like shrimp braised in chipotle, or short ribs stewed with the herb hoja santa. The beverage side stays just as authentic, with mezcal, tequila, and Sidral Mundet soda on offer. Prices are economical, just like the Land mothership. The space itself is small and homey, with a hand-lettered sign, varnished plank ceilings, and folky carved heads. There may be hope for the Upper West Side yet.
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