Three hidden spots for the classic Mexican fare
These lesser-known LES gems keep their three-bite creations simple, tasty, and authentic, minus the frills.
Chef Danny Mena, the man behind the highly acclaimed Hecho en Dumbo, has decided to bring it back to basics at 432 East 13th Street. No lettuce, no guacamole, no tomatoes, sour cream, or onions. It's literally just meat in a tortilla, accompanied by a four-sauce carousel at the table. The theme here is meat, meat, meat, so bring your carnivorious boyfriend, not your vegan cousin.
Sembrado is proudest of their "tacos al pastor," slow-cooked pork marinated on a vertical rotisserie called a trompo - Mena likens this cooking process to "Mexican shawarma."
Patrons literally mark up the paper menu with their selections and hand it off to the waiter, "Just like they do in Mexico," according to manager Oscar Leon Bernal.
They are also enthusiastic about their Mezcal, a spirit distilled from agave that serves as the basis of raicilla, bacanora, sotol, and tequila. They have over two-dozen varieties.
Sitting by the large, open floor-to-ceiling windows is ideal while the weather is still warm, but something tells me it will be charming enough, with its rustic décor, exposed brick walls and wood beams, framed vintage Spanish-American movie posters and colorful handmade tiles on the bar, to keep people coming back through the fall.
It all started with a taco truck on a beach in Mexico - now, that converted Volkswagen Kombi is parked at 267 Elizabeth Street, inside of Tacombi's restaurant.
Tacombi features a rotating menu that draws upon its native regional culinary traditions and serves it in a taco; the crispy fish, chicken, vegetarian and beef are year-round staples. Be sure to order their corn esquites, an adorable little paper cup full of corn topped with chipotle mayo, lime and cheese.
The variety of non-alcoholic drinks is impressive, and includes a traditional cinnamon and rice drink known as horchata, as well as watermelon juice and hibiscus water. Tacombi also plans on bringing in a variety of Mezcal next month.
It definitely feels like a beachside spot, which will make for a nice pretend-getaway when the snow starts to fall.
Café el Portal
This tiny, hole-in-the-wall style eatery sports low ceilings and closely packed tables - bring a friend or two, but any more and you may be a bit uncomfortable. The 174 Elizabeth Street space gives the illusion that you're actually in a little village in Mexico, peppered with vintage photos of owner Gloria Arteaga and her family.
As promised, Arteaga stays true to her mission to provide her customers with the authentic Mexican home cooking that made her food so popular back in her hometown of Guerrero.
Their tacos are true standouts - I had the carnitas, pork with onions and jalapenos, which was juicy, fatty, and perfect. The cactus taco isn't as painful as it sounds, since they use the smooth, inner part of the plant, and it's quite tasty. I also thoroughly enjoyed a zesty, freshly made cucumber water, but other people were drinking some seriously big glasses of sangria.
You'll get your money's worth, and you'll leave full.