Those who say there is no good Mexican food in New York City need to take a closer look. While there are several mediocre restaurants all boasting to be authentic across town, there are also many that don't disappoint. Here are three examples that show the city has something to offer for a wide range of palates and pocketbooks. Every New Yorker should have a knowledge of these.
Rosa Mexicano modernizes Mexican plates while preserving traditional flavors. Most locations have warm and vibrant decor, and every location features the signature cliff diver figurine wall designed by David Rockwell. The three Manhattan locations are in Lincoln Center, Sutton Place and Union Square. Rosa's Frozen Pomegranate Margarita and table-side prepared guacamole are its bread and butter and they live up to the hype. Those seeking street-style tacos, enchiladas and burritos at hole-in-the-wall prices will misunderstand Rosa's concept-driven food and set themselves up for disappointment. Knowing that Rosa places artistic twists on traditional Mexican will lead one to give credit where it's due. The "Panza con Callos de Hacha" taco is a thick-cut, succulent pork belly slice topped with a fat diver scallop gently bathed in spicy orange-habanero salsa. The "Pato Confitado" taco is made by applying traditional slow-roasting to duck and pairing it with guajillo chiles to create complementary flavors that even a virgin to duck will find enjoyable. For dessert, the "Churros en Bolsa" and Espresso "Flan de Rosa" are no brainers. The former is literally churros in a bag that are hot, crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside, and ready to be dipped into chocolate, caramel or raspberry sauces. The flan is infused with espresso and supported by an ancho-chile-brownie bottom that adds a nice roughness to the silky dessert. If your wallet doesn't quite pad the prices here, catch an excellent happy hour that offers some of the same crowd favorite plates and drinks for half off.
Barrio Chino is a gem, uncovered by many in the past couple years, on the Lower East Side. A couple years ago, one could walk by this nondescript nook and completely miss it. The interior looks like an old-school Chinese restaurant with plastic Chinese plates, hanging scroll portraits of Emperors and paper lanterns. There's an impressive selection of tequila lined up and tiered on wooden boards, mounted against the exposed brick wall. The fresh lime and strawberry caipirinhas are crowd favorites, but be wary that a few of these can easily set you back more than you expected to pay. The homemade chips are not too dense or too brittle, but fried to crispy golden perfection and always served welcomingly warm. They are accompanied by three mouthwatering salsas: a dried pasilla chiles-based one that is dark red and smokey, a roasted jalapeño and tomatillo one that is refreshingly mild, and a fire-starting chile de arbol one slightly toned down with roasted tomato and garlic. The sea bass ceviche is fresh, local and cured in lime juice. And the tacos range from marinated pork and marinated skirt steak to achiote and citrus rubbed tilapia and cactus. All of them taste as clean and authentic as it gets. There's still no sign on the door, but a perpetual crowd outside gives away this formerly best kept secret -- the average wait for dinner is two hours on any night.
Hole in the Wall
Quick and dirty Mexican food can be found at a window counter in the far back of an unassuming Mexican bodega called Tehuitzingo in Hell's Kitchen. The menu is blown up, laminated and posted on the wall. The abundant red, white and green decor looks like the insides of a piñata turned out. Two-dollar tacos and five-dollar tortas make it difficult to ring up a meal above 10 dollars. If the avocados aren't ripe enough on any given day, then they won't serve you their traditional guacamole. There's a small communal tray with red and green salsas, lime wedges and minced onion with jalapeños. A bottle opener tacked onto the wall above a trash can makes for self-sufficient hydration by a wide selection of Mexican beers or sodas sold in the bodega. This is authentic Mexican food in its simplest form. The bold flavors are one-dimensional in that each bite tastes the same as the one before, but this predictability is precisely what brings comfort to those who are accustomed to home cooked Mexican food.