Category Archives: Latin/Mexican & Caribbean

Casa Mezcal

Casa Mezcal is a fun Mexican bar/restaurant on Orchard Street that serves up some great food and drinks.

My wife and I stopped in here on a whim because a place nearby where we wanted to eat was closed for renovations. It turned out to be a nice unforeseen change of plans.

We noticed that they give free shots of mezcal if you post and tag them on Instagram, so that was a no brainer for me.

Those mezcal shots were deliciously hibiscus flavored and spice-rimmed. I tried one of their sipping mezcal too and really liked it (Del Maguey Wild Jabali).

They also had awesome cocktails on the menu. We tried a couple and loved both.

Speaking of drinks, this place has an awesome bar set up. There is even seating there now, COVID be damned!

We started with the carb meat tostada, which was our favorite item of the meal.

They accidentally brought out an order of chicken quesadillas instead of my burrito. I let them know and they took it off the bill. However, rather than let it go to waste, they told us to keep it anyway. So I gave the value of the item extra in tip at the end to make up for it. That was a really nice move on their part so I wanted to make them whole.

Both were excellent, but the burrito was probably one of the best I’ve had lately. My wife got fish tacos, which I didn’t shoot, but they were the best entree.

Over all this was a really great meal with really great drinks. We will definitely be back here.

CASA MEZCAL
86 Orchard St
New York, NY 10002

El Castillo De Jagua II

A $7 cubano sandwich stuffed to the gills with pernil, a $4 banana shake, a juicy-ass half roast chicken and an ungodly amount of yellow rice? You can’t go wrong at El Castillo de Jagua. This second location, which is right near our new place, offers some amazing food at amazing prices.

The Cuban was probably our favorite. Definitely could benefit from extra pickles and extra ham, but at $7 bucks with perfectly toasted and pressed bread, lots of pernil, and little grease, we were thrilled.

Speaking of, the pernil entree itself was juicy and MASSIVE in terms of serving size.

The roast half chicken comes with exquisitely crispy skin that somehow still remains juicy as well.

The fried pork meat was a blast. It reminded me of Chinese boneless spare ribs, but less sticky sweetness and more of crispy savoriness.

The main dishes come with copious amounts of rice. We picked yellow instead of white. Beans came with the mains as well (not pictured individually, but see the last photo for the serving size to the left of my hand).

The fried plantains had just enough sweetness to make them almost dessert-like.

Speaking of desserts, we were impressed with both the banana and sour sop shakes.

I can NOT wait to explore this menu some more!

EL CASTILLO DE JAGUA
521 Grand St A
New York, NY 10002

Barcelona & San Sebastian

Here’s a run down and guide for all the food I had in Barcelona and San Sebastian. If you followed a link here for a specific restaurant, just scroll down until you see the restaurant name in bold – I did a bulk review here for all of them. In summary, here are my top dishes of the trip:

  • Mountain and Sea Fideua; Xiringuito Escriba (BCN)
  • Grilled Prawns; Xiringuito Escriba (BCN)
  • Roasted Piquillo Peppers; Lomo Alto (BCN)
  • Mussels in Tiger Sauce; La Mejillonera (SS)
  • Ham, Cheese, Sardine & Candied Pistachio Pintxos; Txalupa (SS)
  • Ham & Mushroom Sailboat Pintxos; Karrika Taberna (SS)
  • Cheesecake; La Vina (SS)
  • Potato Tortilla; Bar Nestor (SS)
  • Cream Puff; Izar Pasteleria (SS)
  • Iberico Pork Shoulder; Kokotxa (SS)
  • Suckling Lamb; El Asador de Aranda (BCN)
  • Suckling Pig Tacos; Hoja Santa (BCN)
  • Vanilla Custard Filled Churro; Random Churro Truck (BCN)

You might notice that the reviews go from BCN to SS and then back to BCN. Very astute of you. That’s because I wrote these in semi-timeline order. We travelled to BCN first, then spent a few days in SS before returning to BCN to finish the trip. In any case, read on and salivate.

TAPAS SIN FRONTERAS (BCN)

We ate here, which was across the street from our AirBnB, to kill some time before check-in on day one of the trip. We got some paella, salumi, and anchovies. Everything here was just mediocre. Not the best way to start the trip, but at least there was some jamon iberico involved.

XIRINGUITO ESCRIBA (BCN)

This beachside paella joint was slammed! There’s a great open-air dining room that overlooks the beach along the Mediterranean Sea, and, as you might imagine, the seafood here is amazing.

The “mountain and sea” paella was visually the star of the show here. Check it out:

 

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But the version that’s made with pasta (fideua) tasted better and had better texture.

We also had some ceviche, guacamole, “pan con tomate,” Galician style octopus and grilled head-on prawns to start.

The prawns were amazing, and one of my top dishes of the entire trip.

The ceviche was just okay, but the guac, the tomato bread and the octopus were all excellent. In fact, that octopus was a close contender for another top dish of the trip. This place was just incredible over all.

Another standout starter was the jamon “air bag.” The crispy cracker-bread pillow gets broken and you eat the ham with it. Awesome.

 

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The highlight of dessert was the pistachio cake with orange sorbet. So delicious!

The other selections weren’t too shabby either, one being a multi-layered combo of dolce de leche and tiramisu, and the other a classic puff pastry and cream combo.

In sum, Xiringuito Escriba is a “must go” spot if you’re looking to eat at the beach in Barcelona.

LOMO ALTO (BCN)

I came across this spot in my research for all things meaty in Barcelona.

This place is all about the beef! Dry-aged, “vaca vieja” (old cow) to be specific. The old cows, some as old as eight years at slaughter, are dry aged for months here, on site. Typically this type of meat is turned into burgers in the US, but here in Spain it is a sought after delicacy.

They offer 12 different breeds of beef to choose from.

Pro tip: say no to the bread. They will automatically bring out bread portions for each person at the table and then charge you upwards of four euro per head at the end. We got them to remove the charge since it was pretty much all stale and we barely touched it. The olives, however, were awesome.

We started with some very meaty items. Tartare, carpaccio and beef tongue. This was a great way to get to know the flavor of dry-aged dairy and old ox meat, which is what these were prepared from. Bold, savory, unique. I really liked all of these, and they came with a pair of nice spiralized potato chip things.

The croquettes were nice as well.

The steak we had was a rib chop from an 8yr old dairy cow that was dry aged for 90 days:

 

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Here’s a quick video of the presentation and slicing:

 

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Some scraps left after eating:

This had some of the most interesting and unique flavor from the dry aging. It tasted like blue cheese. The texture was a little bit aggressive – not tough, but more chewing involved. Some folks love that. Over all I’d say this was an 8/10.

The steak came with roasted piquillo peppers, fries and a salad. The best part of this entire meal was the dish of peppers! They were amazing, and oddly enough a top dish of the trip.

This place is heaven for folks who love dry aged beef, and who also love Spanish beef. A definite must try if that fits your bill. I personally like US beef better, but “when in Rome” … (or, in this case, “when in Barcelona”).

VARIOUS PINTXOS & BARS (SS)

La Mejillonera

This San Sebastian pintxos joint specialized in mussels and served them something like five or six different ways.

The door handle is even a mussel.

We arrived just as they opened, and as a general matter I found that this is the best way to eat pintxos: Get there early, before the crowds and while the pintxos are freshly made and not collecting bacteria as they sit out on the counter, sans sneeze guards and subject to all kinds of touching.

We tried two mussel dishes: Spicy “tiger” sauce, and wine/herb sauce. Both were incredible, but the spicy tiger sauce (orange/red) was a bit better. Great for bread dipping.

We also had fried calamari two ways: one with shishito peppers and one with a bravas style spicy, creamy sauce. Both excellent.

This unique place was the first and one of our best stops in San Sebastian. It’s definitely worth a stop on your pintxos crawl.

La Vina

At this place, you need to focus your attention on the cheesecake.

It’s fantastic. Rich, creamy, and delicious.

One order gets you two slivers, so if you’re planning to hit a bunch of places for tapas/pintxos, you can just get a single order to share among two or three people.

Bar Martinez

This is one spot that every guidebook will tell you is great.

We enjoyed it, but it was mostly more of the same type stuff that you see at other places. In my opinion, it can be skipped.

Txalupa

This joint had one of my favorite bites of the trip: A ham, cheese, sardine and candied pistachio crumble pintxos bite. It blew me away.

Izar Pasteleria

When you need a sweet fix, hit this little shop and get the cream puff. I picked the one that looked like a hot dog shaped bun. It was one of the best bites of the trip.

These pine nut clusters were great as well.

Loco Polo

If you need a cold sweet fix, this is your place. They have various flavors of ice cream pops, and you can have them dip the pops into various flavors of chocolate and then sprinkled with various toppings. I went with an oreo ice cream pop, dipped in dark chocolate and then hit with crushed waffle cone bits. Awesome.

Karrika Taberna

We hit this spot on a whim before lunch on our last day in San Sebastian and tried a handful of pintxos that looked unique and different from the standard pieces we kept seeing all over the place. Turned out to be a great decision, as that sailboat looking thing (ham and stuffed mushroom) turned out to be one of my favorite pintxos of the trip. Also a great place to have a spritz.

Kutixik

This little spot is essentially a deli/meat shop with some dry goods products for sale as well, but they have a window on the street side where they sell meat cones and sandwiches.

Of course I picked up a cone of ham to walk around with and snack on. The aged flavor was immense on this ham! So good.

 

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Urgulleko Polborina

My new favorite bar in the world sits on top of Monte Urgull in San Sebastian and overlooks Santa Clara Island and Bahia La Concha. The walk there is half the fun, and the bar itself is in an isolated nook of the castle/battlements of Castillo Monte Urgul. Take a look:

 

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Bare Bare

Talk about AVERAGE! Everything here was just meh, but this place is always on pintxos lists for tourists. Pass.

MARINELA (SS)

We ate dinner at this seafood joint along the docks.

This was a mediocre meal, but there were a few highlights that were good. This side of asparagus was not fresh. It was canned or pickled.

The grilled octopus was one of the highlights here. It was cooked nicely and had some spicy flavored potatoes with it.

The grilled squid skewers were okay. Nothing special, but not bad by any means.

These prawns were good as well, but not nearly on the same level as Xiringuito Escriba.

The bay scallops were pretty, but a little overcooked.

I enjoyed the baked langoustines though.

BAR NESTOR (SS)

This place is iconic in San Sebastian for all of the main items they serve. Get there at 11:45am and wait to reserve your slice of potato tortilla at 12pm, when Nestor opens the window and starts taking names (they only have 12 slices a day).

It’s one of the best things I ate on the trip. Crispy, gooey, delicious.

Come back at 1pm when they open and sit for a meal. You can reserve a table or spot at the bar when you give Nestor your name for the tortilla. Once seated, they’ll bring out a pair of steaks for you to choose from.

Say yes to the tomatoes; they’re fucking amazing.

Say yes to the peppers; they’re great, too.

The steak itself is 8/10. There’s not as much dry-aged flavor as Lomo Alto in BCN, despite the restaurant and street smelling intensely “dry-agey” and beefy-delicious. That aroma – that Spanish “vaca vieja” – is unique and intoxicating. It doesn’t always translate to flavor, but this cut was more tender and had a better crust than Lomo Alto, so it evened out.

Two slices of potato tortilla, tomatoes, peppers, steak, and two glasses of wine: €63.80.

What an experience! Here’s a short video of the process.

 

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KOKOTXA (SS)

We did the market tasting menu at this Michelin-starred restaurant. It started off with some fancy breadsticks.

Then a trio of snacks – seaweed cake, creamy fish puff and a relatively flavorless bite of something that I can’t seem to remember at the moment (the orange thing).

This white tuna ceviche was fresh and delicious.

I really enjoyed this grilled calamari dish as well.

Kokotxa means cheek in basque, and this hake cheek was a delicious bite for the restaurant namesake.

The crispy skin hake filet was great as well – probably one of the best bites of the meal.

But the star of the meal for me was the iberico pork shoulder, and it was mainly why we chose the market tasting menu instead of the chef’s tasting menu (it wasn’t on that menu). One of the best dishes of the entire trip right here. I wanted three more plates.

The two desserts were both good, and both featured interestingly flavored and balanced sorbets.

Petit fours for the finish:

I definitely recommend Kokotxa if you are in San Sebastian and looking to change up the diet from pintxos. It’s one of the cheaper Michelin-starred places in the area too.

TXULETA (SS)

Our final meal in San Sebastian was this chop house. We started with foie gras, lomo (cured pork loin) and roasted piquillo peppers. The foie and peppers were mediocre but the lomo was outstanding.

Another “txuleta” (chop/steak in basque, and the restaurant’s namesake) was consumed here as well. This one had less aged flavor than both Bar Nestor and Lomo Alto, but it was nice and tender. In fact, it was more tender than both of the others, so we evened out again at an 8/10.

Having loved the hake cheeks from Kokotxa the night prior, we went in on two styles of them here as well. Bad move. Should have gotten more meat. The fried ones weren’t as battered or seasoned as I expected, and they were also a little soggy (not crisp). The sauced ones were even worse – they were slimy and seemed almost undercooked.

DINNER AT HOME (BCN)

One of my favorite things about travel in Europe is just hitting the local supermarket (Mercadona) and snacking at home for a meal. High quality stuff for very cheap!

 

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EL ASADOR DE ARANDA (BCN)

This place specializes in suckling lamb, as well as beef chops. We went big on a feast here so let me get into it right away.

Excellent marinated olives and gherkins came to the table.

This beef bresaola with arugula, tomato juice and truffle was awesome.

The roasted piquillo peppers were just okay – not on the Lomo Alto level.

Awesome cheese platter – hard to choose a favorite among four great selections.

This crispy blood sausage was incredible. Awesome texture and crunch, really nicely cooked, and not greasy like many tend to be.

This fried egg dish was fun as well, though I didn’t eat much of it. I was saving room for all the meat.

Hot stone beef!

This cut comes out sliced thin and ready for searing. If I had to guess, this was some part of the chuck.

The meat sizzles away and creates an awesome aroma at your table.

A nice crust develops. 8/10.

Check out the video:

 

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We also got an extra strip steak just for fun… Another 8/10.

…And some lamb ribs as well. These were incredible! I would have called this the best dish of the night if it weren’t for the next one…

The real star here was the 1/4 suckling lamb; a leg:

This crispy skin, fork tender beauty is fall-off-the-bone soft. Simply put, it’s the best lamb I’ve ever had. This dish is reason enough to book your trip to Spain. Skip the vaca vieja and get this!

For dessert, us adults decided to eat some of what was meant to be for the kids. Ice cream in the shape of a dick, and some chocolate cake with whipped cream and ice cream.

This bottle of sweet licorice flavored amaro type liquor came out with the bill. Very nice digestif.

What a meal! This place is a must on your trip to Spain.

HOJA SANTA (BCN)

Hoja Santa customized a tasting menu for us based on a handful of things we were interested in and pointed out to the waiter on their a la carte menu. This Michelin-starred restaurant ended up being the best all-around meal of the trip.

Here’s what we had:

Trio of snacks: gastronomic/spherized olives and peaches, along with a Caesar salad tostada with chicken skin.

Trio of solid cocktails: michelada, mezcal and margarita foam ball. So cool.

Corn tamales.

Ceviche with catch of the day white tuna and octopus.

Trio of tacos: conchinita pibil taco puff, beef brisket taco with jalapeño tortilla, and bone marrow with sesame tortilla. All awesome, but the brisket with jalapeño tortilla was incredible. One of the best bites of the meal.

Foie gras mole with thin crispy bread and some sort of quinoa meatball things.

Arabic lamb tacos with tomatillo, avocado and sour cream sauce, radish, limes and crispy flour tortillas. These were incredible, and almost shaped up to be the best bite of the meal if it wasn’t for the final savory dish.

Check out how tender this meat was!

One of my lamb rib tacos:

The final savory bite, and best part of the meal – possibly even the best dish of the trip – were these suckling pig rib tacos with cilantro cream, herbaceous pig drippings sauce, pickled cabbage, lime and fresh corn tortillas with pig stamps on them.

Here’s a video of the process.

 

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THAT CRISPY SKIN! You can actually hear it…

Dessert was a frozen orange foam with amaranth, custard and some kind of tahini-like sesame butter.

And finally, and most impressively, corn ice cream with goat cheese, caramel and chocolate truffles. One of the better sweet bites of the trip.

I highly recommend Hoja Santa – you should definitely hit this spot on your trip to BCN.

RANDOM CHURRO VENDOR

These stuffed churros from a churro cart by the famous Gaudi park “Park Guell” (near the Alfonso X metro stop) were awesome. One vanilla custard (best), one dolce de leche (second best) and one chocolate.

Holy fuck I think that about does it! What a ridiculous amount of great food. I hope you take some of my recs if you ever make it over to BCN or SS. Salud!

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