Celebrate Cinco de Mayo at one of our five favorite downtown Mexican restaurants – and for those of you looking for tequila (i.e., all of you) visit the Grand Bar at Soho Grand for our signature Grand Margarita. A delicious and perfectly simple rendition of the classic cocktail, it combines tequila, combier, and fresh lime juice. What more could you ask for?
1. Tacombi: Based on a beachside operation in Playa del Carmen, Tacombi is the go-to for tacos at any time of the day. Served out of an old Volkswagen inside a converted garage on Elizabeth Street in Nolita, breakfast tacos such as Huevos con Chorizo satisfy all the morning cravings, while the rest of their offerings, especially their crispy fish taco, are arguably the best you’ll find this side of the Playa. And for fans of the classic Mexico City-style street corn, don’t miss Tacombi’s version, served in a Dixie cup with chipotle mayo and lime juice. 267 Elizabeth Street, between Prince and Houston Streets
2. Mission Cantina: Mission Cantina has the feel of a neighborhood place, a casual spot to have a beer and a few tacos and maybe something that will surprise you – after all, this is Danny Bowien’s Mexican-inspired sister to his Asian hit Mission Chinese (one of Bon Appetit‘s top 10 restaurants in 2013, which was shuttered and is now operating as an occasional pop-up at Frankie’s Spuntino in Carroll Gardens). Some colorful Mexican paper cut-outs hang from the ceiling and there’s an odd blue tinge to the lighting, perhaps intended to foil Instagrammers. Standout offerings include an appetizer of soft-scrambled eggs with sea urchin, caviar, and spicy chili slices and a beef heart and scallop ceviche that somehow really works. Bowien himself endorsed the whole chicken, prepared on a special rotisserie in the back, and by all accounts gunning for status as one of the best poultry dishes in the city. Taco-wise, some of the offerings are traditional. There’s a genius carnitas taco made with three kinds of pork: confit shoulder, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth cubes of jowl, and fried chicharron. Bowien and company are making the tortillas in house, and, even more impressively, they’re preparing their own masa. The succinct drinks menu–three cocktails made with soju (including the rather hilariously named Dirty Horchata) plus a house michelada, cheap beer, red or white sangria, and those colorful Mexican soft drinks everyone loves– won’t get you too trashed. Overall it is what you’d expect from a neighborhood joint, with a twist. 172 Orchard, between Stanton and Houston Streets
3. Empellon Taqueria: If you’ve ever complained that there’s no good Mexican food in New York, you probably haven’t eaten at Alex Stupak’s Empellón Taquería. In his twenties, Stupak conquered the fine-dining pastry world, heading up desserts at Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago and then at New York’s own molecular mecca, wd~50. With nowhere else to rise, Stupak shocked the culinary contingent by switching gears, opening Taquería in early 2011 and, less than a year later, the less-taco-focused Cocina in the East Village. The culinary switch worked out well – Stupak was honored as a semi-finalist for NYC’s Best Chef and Best New Restaurant in the 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards. Not many bad choices can be made at the Taqueria – go classic with a skirt steak and mojo de ajo taco or opt for Stupak’s more adventurous combinations, like chicken and black kale or brussels sprouts and hummus. 230 West 4th Street, between West 10th Street and Seventh Avenue
4. La Esquina: Spanish for “the corner,” La Esquina looks just that: an unassuming corner on Kenmare and Lafayette Streets. But, this corner is much more than meets the eye: it’s a three-part speakeasy. To wit: From 8am to 2am, you’ll find a ramshackle counter-service taqueria hawking tacos and tortas like the Conchinita Pibil, with its marinated hunks of pork topped with pickled onions and jalapeños. Next door, the café is airy and sleek, serving more sophisticated fare like ceviches and huevos rancheros. Downstairs is the real star though. To enter, you sneak through the kitchen to the cloistered underground dining room – a dark, candelabra-lit taverna with sexy leather banquettes, and hidden lounge areas envelops you. Order something equally as sumptuous now. May we suggest the La Esquina Mole Negro Enchiladas with rotisserie chicken in mole sauce, rice, iceberg and radish? Wash it down with one of over 200 premium tequilas: The limited edition Chamucos Reposado tequila is a good start. 114 Kenmare Street, between Cleveland Place and Lafayette Street
5. Toloache: At Julian Medina’s downtown location, diners can choose from favorites like tacos de langosta — tortillas filled with spicy lobster, morita salsa and avocado; callos de hacha — seared scallops over a bed of quinoa risotto, porcini mushroom and huitlacoche butter, and Medina’s quesadilla de huitlacoche y trufas. Considered the signature dish of the Thompson Street eatery, it’s served with manchego, corn, black truffle and huitlacoche salsa. Medina was inspired to cook traditional Mexican cuisine by his father and grandfather, and the menu is a refined reflection of Medina’s roots. 205 Thompson Street, between Bleecker and West 3rd Streets