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A Mexican Revolution Spices Up the NY Dining Scene



Margaritas and guacamole may be the gateway for Americans to travel through before arriving at some of the most sensational and imaginative dishes new Mexican chefs are brining to New York. Their lineage ranges from learning from gifted home chefs to staffing elegant mainstays like Rosa Mexicano until a young chef named Chef Roberto Santibanez went off to find his own restaurant at Fonda’s. Meanwhile Richard Sandoval’s Maya presents Test Kitchen choices from one of Mexico’s 31 states twice a year and spunky females like Denisse Lina Chavez elbowed her way out of a tough situation to a near perfect one at El Atoradero. We are showing off holes-in-the-wall tacquerias like Los Portales in Astoria to giltzy, slick Anejo. Mexican dining spots are usually staffed with folks who know you do not know much about their menus, so tend to be helpful even in halting English. Try new things in small bites, at the bar, with friends and move on to prix-fixe menus, brunches and join the fiesta. Buen provecho! 

 


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Served with onions, cilantro, radish and limes, the taco fillings at Los Portales range from the piquante el pastor to chicken, pork, veal flank, chorizo, and spicy pork on a corn tortilla. The more authentic offers include pork ear and beef tongue, but you can stick to the standards. Take a look around: Los Nuevos Portales caters to Mexicans new to NYC looking for a taste of home. Essentially a taqueria not a restaurant, which translates into much more casual, small, and you can improve your Spanish as the TV is tuned into an overly dramatic telenovela. Most of the business here is take-out, hence the rudimentary decor, but don't let that dissuade you from buying one of each of the tacos r full platters of fajita, chilaquiles, quesadillas and taking it home to your honey.




Forget sombreros and festivals, this is a high-end, sophisticated dining experience in a white on white dining room reminiscent of the bleach white light of Mexico's coastal regions. Expect the unexpected: not a burrito or chile rellano in sight at this suave Midtowner, which is refining the concept of Modern Mexican cuisine. Chef Richard Sandoval combines the art of coastal Mexican cuisine with a strong passion for his native Mexico shifting his focus each month from one region to another: Baja in La Paz and an unparalleled culinary imagination. Start with the three or four-ceviche tasting or, perhaps, the octopus and aurugla salad. From there, Sandoval truly shines, as the main courses include golden bass with huitlacoche flan, swordfish with potato-caper fondue, and adobe-marinated skirt steak for carnivores.


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Hell's Kitchen

Part of the buzz on 10th Avenue's Restaurant Row arrived with a distinct Mexican flavor and top-shelf tequila. Executive Chef Ricardo Camacho culinary contributions have made Anejo into a wildly popular tequila restaurant and bar located in the heart of Tribeca and Hell's Gate nabes. Anejo offers the most eclectic selections of tequilas, mezcals and Mexican distillations to complement each and every dish on the menu. Open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, Anejo's menus are inspired by Mexican spices and seasonal ingredients, all served in a warm, inviting and artistic setting. Staying true to authenticity, all tortillas are made in-house, but don't stop there, sample the Ceviche Mixto ($15), made of tiny cuts of blue shrimp, scallop and sea bass in a piquant broth of mango avocado citrus; moving on, to a side of corn dumplings and maybe the rabbit mole.


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Upper East Side


Chef Richard Sandoval's Maya has already snagged two Michelin forks for 2016. This chic, upscale restaurant is just a skip from Hunter College on the upper East Side. Its decor is accented by bright mango on the walls, dark furnishings and vibrant tile underfoot. Make no mistake as upscale as it is, it is also fun. The Tequileria, Maya's bar, takes a serious approach to the 200 or so agave-based spirits it has on hand meant to be sipped alongside small plates of exotic choices such as octopus or crispy tofu tacos, huitlacoche (a blue mold that grows on corn) and wild mushroom enchiladas. The slow roasted pork carnitas or the Tampiquena, filet mignon served wtih a mole cheese enchilada, and poblano chile potato gratin weaves a Latin take across several cuisines.


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Nolita


Tacombi was born on the Yucatan Peninsulain 2005. It mushroomed out of a VW Kombi, which has become an icon of this taco-slinging success story that migrated to four New York locations: Nolita, the flagship, Cafe El Presidente in Flatiron, Bleecker St. and Montauk, Long Island so you're never far from a fresh and invigorating made-to-order jugo or coffee from Chiapas, sustainably sourced seafood, heirloom beans from Mexican farms, salsas made from fresh veggies, chiles and the foundation of all Mexican cuisine: the simple tortilla. All sites brim with warmth and great energy: at Cafe El Presidente you feel as if you are at the beach, maybe even the Yucatan; at Nolita as if you were at a party with friends. Tacombi's proprietary brands of corn and flour tortillas, salsas, coffee are on sale so you can take a taste of Mexico with you.




Denisse Lina Chavez's New York story is not new: forced out of the Mott Haven, Bronx location by a punishing rent. From her cramped four-table digs in the Bronx, she found her sunny 32-seat (more during warm months in the garden) location in Prospect Heights called El Atoradero. The yellow room is friendly, warm, with a wide bar, and communal table, stools along a counter by a wide window. The menu is anchored by favorites from Puebla with Chavez's legendary albondigas enchipotladas (meatballs in chipotle sauce) and the bar focuses on Mexican spirits that go beyond the basics of tequila and mezcal to include Jalisco's fruity and smoky racilla, and of course margaritas. Brunch is particularly lively.




You've heard this before but it is definitely true here: authenticity is the core of what makes Casa Enrique that features cuisine of southern Mexico, a winner. Sibling to Cafe Henri that has occupied this corner of Long Island City for years prior to the current boom, Cafe Enrique wears its Michelin star status and lives up to it everyday of the week. Chef Aguilar is French trained as was his brother who still oversees Caf� Henri down the block, but he has brought his family recipes from his native Chiapes and a whole lot of imagination. A special brunch menu shows up form 10 am to 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays while the midweek menu is a lustrous and delicious repertoire of Mexico from Puebla to Chiapas and a few places in between.




Rosa Mexicana, which means Mexican Pink, was among the pioneers in 1984 to introduce New Yorkers to an elevated version of south-of-the-border delights. Still presided over by the incomparable Josefina Howard, she and her chefs continue to redefine expectations with regionally authentic Mexican cuisine from Michoacan to Puebla to Veracruz and Tampico. Even the Guacamole en Molcajete is prepared tableside in a traditional lava-rock mortar. Rosa's stock of 250 types of tequila and 125 mescals makes it an Hora Feliz natural featuring spirited cocktails: the Raicilla Blanco Negroni, the spicy cucumber and tamarind margaritas. The flagship Rosa is rustic handcrafted furnishings while the new generation of Rosas feature dramatic architectural details such as cascading water walls against a vibrant palette of purples, pinks, reds and oranges.




A native of Mexico City, a grad from Paris' top culinary institutions, award-winning Chef Roberto Santibanez added the titles of restaurateur, cookbook author, a tenure at Rosa Mexicano's before launching Fonda in 2009. Set in the East Village, Chelsea and Park Slope, each dining room has a slightly different feel where Fonda combines a cosmopolitan spin on urban Mexican fare. Like many chefs, he started off with what his grandmother taught him and that meant not following all the rules. we're glad he rebelled. Arrive for brunch, lunch, dinner or happy hour or a pre-fixe three course dinner for $26 and you'll be impressed. His version of enchiladas in black mole would impress any abuelita from Oaxaca while modern dishes like duck zarape tucked between tortillas will keep you coming back for more.


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Flatiron District


Known for his acclaimed restaurant Pujol in Mexico City, Cosme is Chef Enrique Olvera's first incursion into the U.S. His intention: to subvert everything you thought you knew about Mexican cuisine. Ever since the high-ceilinged Cosme opened in the high-end Flatiron space that once housed a strip joint, it has been one of the hottest restaurants in town. World-renowned Chef Enrique Olvera's menus are rooted in Mexican flavors and traditions peppered with corn, beans and chile made with local Hudson Valley products. Try the mushroom-and-potato barbacoa and a mescal-spiked, cactus-studded rendition of Manhattan clam chowder or even the duck carnitas. Cosme's beverages feature artisanal spirits matched with its cuisine, letting the ingredients shine.


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Meet Maria Lisella

No matter how many countries Maria Lisella has visited (62), this native New Yorker finds the world at her doorstep in amazing Queens where its residents speak 138 languages.

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