Category Archives: Latin/Mexican & Caribbean

Parrilla Urbana

I hit this joint with my wife and some friends when we were away in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Here’s what we had:

First, a bean and cheese dip with tortilla chips:

Next up, Mexican style roasted bone marrow. You scoop it out and eat with tortillas.

This beef tongue casserole was the star of the night for me. You could eat these with the tortillas too.

The rib eye and chicharrones with guac was really nice too.

As were the blooming onion and the shrimp.

We had a pair of salads to pass around as well. Both were excellent.

We had three main meats. Roasted chicken, filet mignon (7/10 for cook temp issues), and braised beef ribs (9/10). All were great, but I think we all liked the beef ribs and chicken the best.

On the side, we had some french fries and mac and cheese, both were excellent.

We also tried three desserts, one of which was a late addition to my best of 2018 dishes (the corn cake).

That corn cake was insane. We also had chocolate cake and flan.

Even the drinks here are awesome. I was really digging the mezcal cocktails.

As well as the straight stuff.

This was by far the best food in Playa del Carmen that we got to try. If you are ever in the area, go here.

PARRILLA URBANA
Avenida esquina Calle 32 5A
Gonzalo Guerrero, 77710
Playa del Carmen
Q.R., Mexico

Compere Lapin

This is Nina Compton’s joint, from the New Orleans season of Top Chef. My wife got us a reservation here and we were all pretty excited to try it.

The cocktails here are awesome, and I’m now firmly of the belief that New Orleans is one of the best places for cocktails in the world. Their take on a mule is served in a brass rabbit, and they can only serve 14 at a time, since that’s how many brass rabbit vessels they have.

I had a Louisville Slugger, which was basically a vanilla smoked old fashioned. Delicious.

Now onto the food. First was this board of amazing biscuits with two kinds of butter (sweet and maple bacon).

We started with a nice round of small plates and apps.

Crispy Pig’s Ears

These were awesome. Great Caribbean spice flavor (Nina hails from St. Lucia), crispy outside, and a little chew inside. Just right.

Conch Croquettes

Another nod to Nina’s background, these Caribbean conch fritters were soft inside and perfectly crisp outside.

Tuna Tartare

This was so good. The spice level was nice, but the flavor and quality of the tuna was exceptional. Not to mention that it’s beautiful to look at. My favorite of the apps, and that’s a big win considering what came next.

Steak Tartare

The meat was nicely minced and served with a skim-coat of smoked beef fat. Amazing! My buddy, who is a big steak tartare aficionado, loved this. This shit was way better than the garbage we had at Dickie Brennan’s.

Now onto the main courses.

Jamaican Jerk Drum

Drum is a fish that’s local to the area. It’s white and flakey, kinda like a halibut. This had a nice crisped coating of jerk spices on the exterior, and a super tender and flakey interior. I loved it. What made this dish really pop, though, were the drops of citrus custard that dotted the plate. When you got that pungent hit of lemon curd in with a bite of all the rest, it really came together.

Seafood Scialatielli

This homemade spaetzl-like pasta was perfectly cooked and served with some high quality shrimp and clams. We really liked it.

Curry Goat

I didn’t get a photo of this, but I did get a bite of my friends dish. It was so tender and flavorful. Nina really nailed it.

Dessert: Soursop Semifreddo

Very rare to see the exotic soursop fruit on a menu stateside, so my wife and I jumped at this. It was served in a log shaped semifreddo form, with shaved celery, meringue and shaved cucumber. Really well balanced.

This was easily one of the best meals we had in New Orleans. I highly recommend this joint.

COMPERE LAPIN
The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery
535 Tchoupitoulas St
New Orleans, LA 70130

Kizuna Nikkei

NOTE: This joint is now closed.

Kizuna Nikkei serves up some of the most stunningly beautiful and delicious dishes I’ve had in a while. Nikkei cuisine is a form of Japanese and Peruvian fusion that evolved in Peru due to Japanese cultural influence in the region. This was my first time indulging in this kind of food, and it certainly won’t be my last.

My wife and I were invited in for a complimentary tasting of some items on the menu, in hopes that we would help get the word out about this new joint. Owner/Manager Jacob recently changed the focus (and decor) of this restaurant from a steakhouse (Carnem) to Nikkei. I had eaten at Carnem before, and I can say with 100% confidence that this new venture is a much better endeavor when it comes to the food.

So let’s get down to business. We started with the Maguro Nikkei, which is a tartare-like dish consisting of big eye tuna, kyuri, avocado, aji amarillo, tamari and kaiware.

This was really beautiful and fresh. A great way to start the meal.

And I’m going to tell you right now: each dish that came out was more beautiful and more flavorful than the last. So hold onto your asses and get ready for some gorgeous plating.

Next up was the Hamachi Crudo.

Yellowtail, orange, ponzu, aji limo and garlic brunoise make up this bright and crisp dish.

Again, really fresh and flavorful. And gorgeous.

The next item we sampled was called Sake Passion.

This is king salmon, passion fruit, crispy gyoza skin and aguaymanto.

I was mesmerized by the plating, and wowed by the flavors. I love raw salmon treatments, and this one nailed it.

This next dish is almost too beautiful for words.

This was black sea bass with octopus, scallop, shrimp, calamari, fried cassava and ikura (roe) in aji Amarillo sauce.

This sauce had a really good heat, and every component of the dish was cooked to absolute perfection.

I highly recommend this dish when you come here.

Our final course was a braised beef short rib with sweet potato, lotus root, carrots, enoki mushrooms and white asparagus in a garlic, onion, cilantro sauce.

The sauce had an earthy heat to it that penetrated deep into the beef flesh and lingered in your mouth with each delicious bite.

I highly recommend this dish as well, especially if you’re a beef person like me.

The portions here are crafted for a light tasting style dining experience. Order a bunch of things, or share, and you will definitely enjoy every bite. There’s a LOT to try here, and I’m looking forward to going back again soon. I’ve already told my friends that live in the neighborhood about this place. Awesome.

KIZUNA NIKKEI
318 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Esperanto

Esperanto is a fun, brightly colored Brazilian and South American food joint on 9th and C.

The open and inviting bar boasts a nice selection of unique cocktails, like the mazcalita, made with mescal, lime juice and ginger (right).

There’s even some hard to find Brazilian beers available, like Xingu and Itaipava.

For just $2 you can get these all served michelada style (with lime and tomato juice, which I love).

The first thing that Chef Cesar brought to the table was this really nice country style bread with their house made dipping oil, which is also available for sale by the bottle.

It’s infused with peppercorn, garlic, fennel, red pepper and herbs. It is absolutely delicious. I’ll definitely be going back to buy a bottle of this delicious potion.

My wife and I started with two apps. First was the fried goat cheese salad with cashew pesto.

This was really awesome. I’m usually not a huge fan of goat cheese, but this was so smooth and creamy inside. It was a great contrast to the crisp outside. And that pesto? Green gold!

This next app is far and away the best preparation of mussels that I’ve ever eaten. They’re roasted in a half shell and baked with garlic, paprika, butter and parmesan cheese.

Similar to escargot, this dish really packed a wallop of flavor, especially when you hit it with some of the fresh lime and cilantro. The parmesan turns into a really nice, crust over the top, adding another textural element of crunch.

It’s funny, too, because I was just explaining escargot to someone the other day who had never eaten them. I described it as being like mussels, but baked with butter, garlic and herbs as opposed to steamed in a pot.

We tried two entrees. First was the moqueca, a traditional South American stew made with coconut milk, ginger, cashews and spices.

We chose shrimp as the main protein, but you can also choose snapper or a mix of snapper and shrimp. This dish reminded us of a Thai or Indian curry dish, but less spicy. However, the “fixins” will set that distinction aside some, as this dish comes with a jar of pickled hot peppers and farofa (cassava meal starch, for thickening the stew is desired). Add one or both to your desired levels of spice and/or thickness.

We also tried the Argentinian style grilled hanger steak.

This comes with homemade guacamole and chimichurri sauce, a side of rice, and a side of stewed black beans.

The steak comes out pre-sliced and cooked to a nice medium rare. When you slather the sauce and guac onto a slice of steak, you’re entering a blissful and exciting meat eating experience. The flavors really pop!

For dessert we tried two items; the homemade coconut flan and the chocolate lava cake. I’m usually not a fan of lava cake, mostly because it is never executed correctly and the middle firms up too much. That wasn’t the case here. The inside was warm and ooey-gooey, and the vanilla ice cream was the perfect way to cool down after each mouth-warming bite.

The coconut flan was awesome! It had a really nice firm, custardy texture. It had threads of fresh coconut mixed into the custard too, to offer an additional pop of coconut flavor with each bite.

This was a great meal, and I look forward to going back. Esperanto has daily happy hour specials, and nightly entertainment like bands and DJs. It’s really a great place. They even have a fresh juice bar off to the side of the restaurant.

Give this place a shot!

ESPERANTO
145 Avenue C
New York, NY 10009

Cantina Rooftop

Cantina rooftop just opened for the season. This fun Mexican joint is located on a glass-enclosed rooftop in Hell’s Kitchen. The spacious dining room is bright, there’s a comfortable lounge section for evenings, and there’s even some outdoor seating as well.

My wife was invited in by the restaurant and was asked to bring some other food people with her to help get the word out about this place. Let me get right down to it.

First off, they have some really tasty cocktails, and good happy hour specials from 5pm-7pm.

Pictured here are the Teporocho (martini glass), which is easily one of the best cocktails I’ve had recently, and the Chingon.

We started with a sampling of their three guacamoles. All three were great, but their Ranchero guac with chili paste was the best.

The huitlacoche and Oaxaca cheese empanadas were fantastic. I highly recommend these when you get here. Each order comes with three empanadas for $10.

Next up was the mixed seafood ceviche. I’m usually not a fan of the red cocktail sauce style ceviches (I usually like just thin liquid citrus and maybe some white wine), but this one really worked. Check out the awesome glass used to serve them:

As far as tacos go, my favorite between the three that we tried were the chorizo tacos, but both the spicy tuna and the pork tacos were also pretty great. Each taco plate comes with three tacos, and the prices range from $10-$14. Not bad at all! I’m happy that this is somewhat close to our apartment. I’ll be hitting these often.

The big star of the evening was the Ajillo shrimp. These were just packed with amazing flavor. Garlic, tequila, chilis and lime juice. This is what you order!

Beautifully plated too.

Last up was the mixed grilled meats platter called the Rooftop Molcajete. Grilled cactus, roasted jalapeno, chorizo, chicken, steak and grilled queso fresco come nicely arranged in a bowl with a side of tortillas for making your own tacos.

We were too stuffed for dessert, but this is a really fun place with excellent service, and I’m looking forward to going back.

CANTINA ROOFTOP
605 W 48th St
New York, NY 10036

Charrua

I came to Charrua with a crew of food influencers to sample some of the menu offerings during their weekend brunch, and take photos for Instagram. Here’s a smattering of what we tried:

Best of the meal goes to the sausages: mild chorizo and blood. The blood sausage was probably the best I’ve ever had.

Empanadas

This chivito (sandwich) was called “El Canadiense.”

It contained filet mignon, bacon, mozzarella, ham, hard-boiled egg, caramelized onion, roasted red peppers, olives, lettuce, tomato and mayo, served with homemade fries. It was good!

The steak was overcooked, but it still had some good flavor despite being gray almost entirely through the center. 5/10.

I also tasted some of the grilled skirt steak on a mixed platter. This was also overcooked, but as badly as the hanger steak. The texture, however, wasn’t quite as nice as the hanger. 4/10.

In short: sausage – excellent; sandwich – good; steak; order it rare.

CHARRUA
131 Essex St
New York, NY 10002

Camacho’s

Camacho’s is a new Mexican joint with great cocktails and a fun cantina vibe. Named after the executive chef, it features a variety of classic Mexican favorites, including tacos:

Clockwise from top: shrimp, steak, short rib, cod.

Excellent guac and chips:

Tasty Mexican corn:

A nice, filling taco salad:

Yucca fries:

The “Bad Hombre” drink, a mezcal based margarita-ish concoction that’s served in a smoke-filled glass skull:

Tons of DOTD sugar skulls on the walls:

Crazy dessert shakes:

And even a suggestive neon sign that’s all the rage on Instagram:

They play some fun music too, if this is your thing; a throwback to mid- to late-90’s rap and hip hop. I dug it, and I’ll definitely be back.

Note: I was invited in by the bar’s ownership to take some photos and do some Instagram posts in exchange for a free meal.

CAMACHO’S
118 E 15th St
New York, NY 10003

La Esquina

For a limited time, La Esquina is making tacos with pastrami inside to honor Carnegie Deli.

La Esquina is new at this location on 55th and 7th Avenue, and Carnegie Deli will be closing soon.

These babies are pretty damn good, so get in here ASAP to try them before it’s too late.

LA ESQUINA
200 W 55th St
New York, NY 10019

Caliente Cab

Caliente Cab has been around since I first moved to the city in 2000. In fact, I think it opened up about 30 years ago. It’s become a regular spot for people on the prowl for warm-weather drinks and reasonably priced Mexican eats. I was invited in to take pics of some menu items for Instagram fodder. Take a look below:

Frozen “Miami Vice” (strawberry daiquiri mixed with pina colada):

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Fresh corn tortillas for the table, nicely wrapped:

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Guacamole (my favorite part of the meal, along with a trio of salsas):

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Sampler combo platter, consisting of a short rib taco, a chicken burrito, a steak enchilada, rice and beans:

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And a burger topped with pepper jack cheese and chipotle aioli:

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The burger was dry due to being overcooked (well done instead of medium), with a semi-hard bun – let the jokes commence… But the guacamole was nice, as was the salsa trio (not pictured). The sampler combo platter was actually decent and nicely priced, though I did develop some heartburn afterwards. But the drinks are really where this place shines. They serve up some really nice flavored margaritas (salted watermelon, in particular, sounded very good). I’d definitely go back for those, along with a nice big bowl of guac and chips.

CALIENTE CAB
61 7th Ave S # 1
New York, NY 10014

El Toro Blanco

I’ll keep this quick and to the point. Me and some old chums from high school came here with our ladies to celebrate the new year. I didn’t take any pics except for one shot of the steak. But pretty much everything we tried was good, from the guacamole to the tacos al pastor, the ceviche to the mole chicken.  Albeit pricey, this joint does serve up good quality.

This rib eye was chili-rubbed and cooked to a nice medium rare. While a bit on the thin side for $48, it offered great flavor and everyone enjoyed it. 8/10.

el-toro-blanco-rib-eye

Being under the same ownership as Bowery Meat Co. and Burger & Barrel, it should come as no surprise that El Toro Blanco is good. Give it a shot sometime.

EL TORO BLANCO
257 6th Ave
New York, NY 10014